Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida takes on fellow former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson tonight at UFC 123 in Detroit. This bout will be Machida's first since losing his title to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua this past May via first round knockout.
The majority of athletes will have a cookie cutter response on how they won't look past the opponent that is before them, they won't allow themselves to speculate what if or who could be next for them should they win the contest in front of them.
One thing to remember is that we are all human and no one would blame us if we happened to allow ourselves a brief glimpse into the future, afterall it would only be natural. Then there are the rare athletes who are so focused on the task at hand that they refuse to think about anyone or anything other than what lies right in front of them.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida is without a doubt one of the athletes in the latter category. His focus is so incredible and his determination that strong that the only thing that is on his mind is one man, fellow former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
Coming off his first career loss in which he was knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Machida looks to rebound and show that he is suffering no ill effects from the loss this past May. While many a man has began their career with a long string of victories, a lot of them somehow never seem the same after being knocked out for the first time. The man Machida defeated for the title, Rashad Evans said it best when he explained that until you get hit again you question whether or not you can take a punch.
"I feel very well prepared for this fight, I am ready to get back in the Octagon and give the fans a great show," explained Machida. "After the loss in May I was right back in the gym preparing for my next fight. I am always training and maintaining my conditioning."
With the way the UFC has grown, there were rumors of many different opponents for Machida once he was ready to spring back into action, one bout that was thrown around was against another former champion in Forrest Griffin.
"The only bout that I was offered was with Quinton. It has never been my style to pick my opponents, I leave that up to the UFC," Machida told me.
After Machida defeated Evans so handily in May of 2009 he was matched up against Rua for the first time at UFC 104 in October of 2009. Up until that bout no one had been able to solve the unorthodox style that Machida presented based upon his Karate background. Rua set forth a game plan that may or may not be the blueprint for all future opponents.
"I will continue to offer a lot of movement in my fights. I certainly feel it will be an exciting fight for the fans as Rampage is an extremely aggressive fighter," said the black belt in Jiu-Jitsu and Shotokan Karate.
With a win over a former champion, Machida could possibly set himself up for another shot at the title. Evans and Rua are expected to meet in March at UFC 128 in Abu Dhabi. Either fight offers its share of drama as Machida could face Rua in a tie-breaking triology or meet Evans in a much anticipated rematch.
"I am very focused on this fight with Rampage. He is a tough opponent and requires all of my attention," explained Machida. "If I am victorious it will be up to the UFC's discretion to determine what is next for me."
Even if he refuses to look into his future the fan in him has to have an interest in the outcome of the Evans-Rua fight. Having fought both men allows an inside knowledge that not a lot of people have into their styles. He may not have a rooting interest per say, but he might have an idea of who will walk away the champion.
"I believe both guys are very tough fighters and could complicate each other's styles," offered Machida. "It will truly come down to who can dictate the fight."
Fighters tend to mix things up when it comes to their training. Machida is certainly no different as he recently spent some time training with the American Kickboxing Academy, home to UFC welterweights Mike Swick, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
"It is always good to train with different fighters, at AKA I was able to train with some tough, experienced martial artists. These are fighters who have been at the top and can offer me challenges in the gym that I would not normally find elsewhere," said the #9 pound-for-pound fighter as listed by Sherdog. "Velasquez is so tough and fights with a ton of heart, I really enjoyed the time we spent training together."
Ever since Machida was young he has lived a "Martial Arts" life. His father began his training at a young age and was very strict with his boys. Many athletes follow a strict way of life, but also tend to develop some odd superstitions. According to Men's Fitness Machida is one of those athletes as they recently named him one of their top 10 Most Superstitious Athletes.
"I don't know if I have any true superstitions that I have," explained Machida. "I follow a balanced lifestyle based on a traditional martial arts philosophy, both in the ring and in my daily life."
There has been much talk of the UFC returning to Brazil for the first time since UFC 17.5 in 1998. With the amount of Brazilians currently fighting in the UFC it would be impossible to feature many of them if and when they do return. For Machida it would be a dream for him to fight in front of his countrymen.
"I think it would be great to see the UFC return to Brazil and I know the Brazilian fans would be very happy," Machida said. "I think it would be an honor for any Brazilian fighter to fight for the UFC in Brazil and that includes myself."
The first step to putting the loss to Rua behind him comes tonight against Rampage and that obviously will not be an easy task against the power punching Jackson, but something tells me that Machida will be more focused than ever and show the world why everyone was looking towards the "Machida Era" not that long ago.