RIO DE JANEIRO – At 39, former UFC champion Lyoto Machida has reached the stage of his career in which the retirement question has become somewhat of a frequent occurrence.
How frequent, you ask? Enough that, asked about that specific outside pressure, Machida’s response is a wide smile of acknowledgement.
“They want to retire me, but I don’t want to be retired,” Machida said after a press conference to launch UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro. “I have more fights. I have more years. I believe that. Because the verb that I like to say here, it’s not about ‘can,’ but about ‘want.’ If you want something, you can get it. That’s what I put in my mind.”
And, as his recent activity helps illustrate, Machida still wants this “a lot.” While being sidelined for 18 months due to a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency ruling that many deemed too harsh could have been enough to push other seasoned veterans out of the sport, it wasn’t for Machida.
It turns out not even coming back to a tough knockout loss, in a headliner, in his home country, was enough to deter Machida. Not only did he return – he did it quickly, too. Faced with a younger, fast-rising opponent who had a lot more to gain from a win than he did, “The Dragon” entered the octagon in his adopted hometown of Belem at UFC Fight Night 125 riding a three-fight skid.
It was close, but Machida (23-8 MMA, 15-8 UFC) managed to take a split decision over Eryk Anders. Less than three months later, Machida gets to meet fellow Brazilian veteran and ex-champ Vitor Belfort (26-13 MMA, 15-10 UFC) at UFC 224, which takes place May 12 at Rio de Janeiro’s Jeneusse Arena.
Now, for the first time since April 2015, Machida gets to walk into a bout off a win. And while adverse results are something Machida has learned to cope with after some time, that does make for a changed experience – for him and the fans.
“It’s different because I feel more confident now,” Machida said. “I feel like I can give my best. Because, when you have no options – only victory – you feel a lot of pressure over your shoulders. But once you release everything, it’s showtime. It’s time to show everything I have.”
And if putting on a show is the goal, Machida believes he’s found just the right opponent for the job. While one would think that a meeting between compatriots who’ve trained together and talked about being friends might be a tricky spot, Machida is totally fine with it.
In fact, it’s a fight that he’s wanted for a while now.
“Because it’s a classic,” Machida said. “This fight could have happened in the past, back in the days. But unfortunately – or fortunately – it’s only happening now. I think it’s a great opportunity for both of us.”
Machida believes Belfort provides a great stylistic matchup, given both are striking-prone fighters who play a lot on the counter. But then, of course, there’s the other side of that: Two counter-attackers meeting each other can also lead to overly apprehensive battles.
Against Belfort, though, Machida doesn’t anticipate that being a problem.
“I don’t believe this fight is going to be a boring fight,” Machida said. “I believe that it’s going to be a very exciting fight. And if he doesn’t come, I’ll go.”
Machida, who once held the UFC’s 205-pound belt and challenged for titles another two times, has made no secret of his desire to get back to middleweight title contention. But, with his focus geared solely toward his immediate challenge, he’s not putting too much energy into thoughts of where a win would get him.
While we’re at it, though, Machida might as well throw in a reminder that he hasn’t forgotten about yet another old target.
“Of course, I believe that a great victory over Vitor Belfort is going to be a very good step for me,” Machida said. “But I don’t want to think about that. I don’t want to just get stuck on this fight. I want to fight this fight and wait for the UFC.
“Of course, I’d like to fight Michael Bisping, too, because that’s another fight that I think (could have happened) in the past. But one thing at a time.”
To hear more from Machida, check out the video above.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: 'They want to retire me,' but former UFC champion Lyoto Machida still eyes classic fights