Undefeated light heavyweight Lyoto Machida quietly entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship in December of 2006 as an asset of the defunct World Fighting Alliance and quickly became the dark horse of his weight division. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz begrudgingly fought the last fight of his contract against Machida at UFC 84 in May and was sent packing by the Brazilian's methodical attack. Casual fans finally took notice of Machida's threat.
His methodical nature is a blessing and a curse. The UFC's marquee division is short on undefeated contenders -- everyone has a blemish on their record. But Machida's patient, karate-infused style, along with his native Portuguese tongue, has not made him an easy subject to market, or an easy fighter to book. He remains the aficionado's choice of light heavyweights.
Machida's next challenge is against Thiago Silva at UFC 89 on Oct. 18 in Birmingham, England. Silva, another wrecking ball of a Brazilian with Machida's 13-0 record, has torn through all but one of his four UFC opponents with strikes. It's a good fight for Machida, but manager Ed Soares said he expected his client to get a title shot after defeating Ortiz.
"I do feel that Thiago's a tough fighter," Soares said. "I understand why they picked Thiago. I personally as a manager would have liked him to fight somebody with a bigger name.
"Yes, we were looking for a title shot. But just the way that it all worked out, it was going to be a while before he gets a title shot. Lyoto wanted to stay busy, and once again, being a business, I understand why they put this fight together. Both guys are 13-0. It's kind of like who's going to be the first one to get to 14? They have to have some sort of storyline to promote, and this makes sense. Both guys are going to enter the Octagon undefeated, and one is going to leave with a loss."
With Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Wanderlei Silva, and perhaps Quinton Jackson in title queue, Machida can expect up to a year before he faces the light heavyweight champion. The contender implications of the Silva fight are unknown, but Soares balks at the idea that Machida can't find fights.
"If they don't want to fight him, that's they're deal," Soares said." I wouldn't want to fight any of our guys either. Our guys are all tough guys, they're all very technical, and you make a wrong move, expect to be punished. It doesn't necessarily make my job any harder, I think the UFC's job may be a little bit harder."
Soares handles the American business affairs of UFC champions Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and is very familiar with the challenges of bringing Brazilian fighters to an American audience. So far, his champions have been able to transcend cultural and language barriers with their relatable fighting styles Silva pummels you, Nogueira submits you. Machida's traits, whether inherent to all of his fights or a consequence of the styles he's faced in the Octagon, are not an easy sell.
Soares says the UFC is hoping for an epic bout, one that can establish Machida as the clear contender if he wins. After all, he can only hover around the top of the division for so long before a big marketing push. From Soares' perspective, it's the missing piece to his appeal.
"From a business standpoint, they need to market Lyoto a little bit more," he said. "At the end of the day, they have to build him up. It doesn't make sense for them to have a champion (as) a relatively unknown fighter. If he was to beat Forrest Griffin, they have to put all that marketing machine on him to build up his pay-per-views.
"If he wins (the Silva) fight, hopefully that will give them a little bit more leverage, and a little bit more stuff to talk about, and more stuff to help promote him."