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UFC champ Lyoto Machida still fighting like a challenger

The Dragon’ expects fellow Brazilian Shogun Rua to bring intense game plan for UFC 104 bout

Lyoto Machida

Associated Press

Lyoto Machida celebrates his second round knockout victory over Rashad Evans during their UFC light heavyweight mixed martial arts match Saturday, May 23, 2009 at The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

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The Machida Era

A new era in the UFC begins after Lyoto Machida knocked out Rashad Evans to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship Saturday night at UFC 98 at the MGM Grand.

Fifteen opponents have faced Lyoto Machida, and 15 challengers have failed to defeat him.

But the one man who knows Machida most certainly can be beaten is “The Dragon” himself.

“I think no one is unbeatable, anybody can be beaten," the UFC light heavyweight champ said last week during a media teleconference. "But that motivates me to keep going out there, train hard and stay focused.”

Saturday night at UFC 104, Machida’s sole focus will be on fellow Brazilian Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Having grown up in the same country, the two have crossed paths in various training circles and events. The fighters’ brief connections and encounters have created a relationship based on mutual respect.

"I've followed Shogun's career for a long time and I watched him all though PRIDE," said the 31-year-old Machida, who fights out of Belem, Brazil. "He's always been a guy who's treated me very well — super respectful and humble; he's not a guy who has arrogance in him.

"As a fighter, everyone knows the accomplishments that he has earned in his career. He is the (2005 PRIDE grand prix) champion and he's had a lot of great fights to make the country of Brazil proud. We're professionals, we know each other and we respect each other.”

The 27-year-old Rua (who sports an 18-3 career MMA mark) responded with his own glowing sentiments for the 205-pound champ.

“We've know each other for a good time already. We trained a bit a while ago at Chute Box," said Rua, who is coming off a win over UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell at UFC 97 in April.

"I really admire Lyoto inside and out of the cage. He's a great fighter and person. I don't have anything against him, but I knew sooner or later I'd have to end up in this situation fighting a Brazilian and someone I'd trained with. He's a great guy and great fighter, but this is our job. We're reaching for the same goal, and we'll make it a great fight for fans."

For Rua to make history, he’ll have to avoid the mistakes that two previously undefeated fighters, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans, did during their quick bouts with the defensive-minded and devastating striker.

“I think people call Lyoto Machida a puzzle because he's a very different kind of fighter. He fights in a different style than most people fight," Rua said of Machida’s specialized karate, based on foot movement, deadly knee and elbow strikes and, of course, almost impenetrable defense.

"It's very difficult to find sparring partners and train with sparring partners who will emulate his style so you can get used to it.”

But Machida — a 3rd-dan Shotokan black belt who learned the martial arts from his father, Yoshizo Machida — knows that to keep his edge and mystique from his unique style, he must continue to fine tune his karate skills.

“I feel that not only have I been out there promoting my style of karate, but just promoting the traditional martial arts, and it makes me very happy," said Machida, who won the UFC title with a second-round knockout over Evans at UFC 98 in May.

"It also keeps me very focused on improving and I keep sharpening my skills to keep representing the traditional martial arts world in a way that can make everybody very proud.”

Machida admitted his recent successes and new-found fame has added pressure and time constraints.

“Things have changed a lot. There are a lot of distractions, a lot of people coming at you. My biggest worry is staying focused and zoning in on what’s important,” Machida said.

Which is why he won’t approach this bout as the champion, but rather from the mindset of the challenger.

"My thought process is not much different than before," Machida said. "Before, I came in to win the belt. I don't look at it as though I'm going to defend my belt. Every time I defend my belt, I'm not there to defend the belt — I'm there to win the belt again."

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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