Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida is set to make his return to the octagon this Saturday night vs. Derek Brunson, the number seventh ranked middleweight fighter on the promotion’s roster. While ‘The Dragon’ is currently unranked, he could find his name amongst the top dogs in the division early next week.
Lyoto will make his return after serving an eighteen month suspension from USADA. That period of time alone would affect any fighter, whether in their prime or not. In fact, ‘The Dragon’ has not competed since June 27, 2015 - a whopping twenty-eight months away from competition, so it seems as if ring rust will simply be inevitable. Add to the fact this is a five round fight, and the uphill battle for the brazilian is for real.
Prior to his extended period away from action, the former 205 lbs kingpin was not doing so well. He was on a two fighting losing skid, having won only one bout in his last four. That was a victory over CB Dolloway, sandwiched between losses to then champion, Chris Weidman, the next champion Luke Rockhold, ending with the consensus top contender at the time, Yoel Romero.
Since Machida’s last bout, the belt changed yet again, with current champ Michael Bisping dethroning Luke Rockhold, and Robert Whittaker earning the interim strap after defeating Romero. Heck, the next man to challenge Bisping won’t even be Whittaker, as it will be Georges St-Pierre, next weekend at UFC 217.
Welcome back Lyoto … you have your work cut out for you prior to getting any opportunity to get a title shot vs. the other fighters ahead of you in line.
While the task seems daunting, especially when we add to the fact that Lyoto is 39 years old, the road to earning gold again likely needs to happen sooner, rather than later.
Step one: defeat Derek Brunson, a winnable fight considering the american’s aggressive style. This could play out perfectly for Machida, who is a master counter-fighter who salivates at the opportunity to punish anyone who makes the mistake of overextending.
In a world of what-ifs, should he make Brunson pay for his errors, a win would definitely place Machida in the top 15, perhaps even the top 10 in the UFC rankings. With his 40th birthday just six months away, he would need to jump back on the horse and get back into the octagon as soon as possible.
He needs to avenge some losses if he has any chance at getting close to the winner of Bisping/St-Pierre, who will then have to defend vs. Whittaker. To do so, he has to have his typical ‘hit and don’t get hit at all’ strategy work to perfection. Not just vs. Brunson, but vs. the likes of the other guys he would need to face off against in the future.
For all we know, Brunson can halt any momentum Machida thinks he will start after their bout in Sao Paulo, but if he cannot, many MMA pundits will not keep Lyoto as an afterthought anymore. I believe a win over Brunson may keep him on the backburner, but he will be on that hot stove along with those above Derek in rankings.
While a fight vs. Anderson Silva will likely never happen, Machida’s road to any title shot is paved with speed bumps of opponents who have already defeated him and others who will no doubt be massive favourites in any potential matchups.
In MMA, it’s not necessarily about what you’ve just done in the past; it’s more or less what did you do in your last fight. For Lyoto Machida, a win over the number seven ranked Brunson on Saturday night could begin erasing that streak of bad performances and put him in the conversation of guys on the cusp of being in the mix. It’s a long road ahead, but the UFC has a funny way of making anyone a contender … and people will believe it.
Heck, we never know what will happen, but what we will find out after Saturday’s main event is if Machida should hang them up or if he’s ready to begin competing again with some of the division’s elite.