Mixed Martial Arts is more than a sport, more than just fighting and more than an art form. Through the intense distending of the mind and body, MMA continuously produces some of the most profound expressions of the human spirit available for mass consumption. From the long list of powerful, emotional and beautiful moments produced by combat, there is one in particular that I want to focus on in this series: Redemption. The overwhelming sense of relief a fighter displays after successfully ‘redeeming’ themselves in the cage/ring by snapping a losing streak or returning from a serious injury, creates one of the most powerful moments in all of combat sports. This series will be solely focused on that moment.
Beginning his career in 2003, Lyoto Machida went on to win his first sixteen professional fights including eight in the UFC. During this period Lyoto was rising through the ranks of the, at the time, super competitive Light-Heavyweight division. After putting together impressive wins over Rameau Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz and Thiago Silva, Machida was seen as the divisions most dangerous contender — earning himself a title shot against Rashad Evans at UFC 98 in 2009. With a dominant performance and brutal second-round knockout of Evans, Machida undoubtedly became the greatest Light-Heavyweight in the world and one of the most compelling figures in the sport. This was capitalised when Joe Rogan famously christened the start of “The Machida Era”.
A mere five months after his title-winning performance against Rashad Evans, Lyoto was thrust into his first title defense against his fellow countrymen Shogun Rua at UFC 104. Although he won a unanimous decision, the fight was easily the most difficult test of Machida’s career up to that point. Due to the nature of the fight and the contention around the decision, the UFC opted for an immediate rematch between the two, with the fight taking place at UFC 113. In the rematch, Lyoto faced a more confident and aggressive Shogun Rua and was ultimately knocked out in the first round, suffering the first defeat of his career.
Suffering a defeat in MMA is never easy to overcome for a fighter but under the circumstances, Machida was dealing with an even more devastating setback. Not only did Lyoto lose for the first time in his professional career, he did so via knockout in the first round while defending his title. The mental strength it takes for a fighter to recover and rebound from a loss such as this can not be understated. As we saw in Machida’s next fight against Rampage Jackson at UFC 123, he struggled to recapture the same confidence that he maintained prior to the Shogun loss. After losing a tentative three round split decision to Rampage, many fans questioned what the future held for the once unstoppable Machida.
In the span of three fights, Lyoto Machida had fallen from an unbeaten and seemingly un-stoppage champion to a diminished contender on a two-fight skid. With pressure mounting and an eagerness to get back in the winner’s column, Machida was matched up with former champion Randy Couture at UFC 129. After a tentative first round, Machida stunned the 55,000 fans in attendance when he landed one of the most elegant and devastating knockouts of all time — finishing Randy Couture in the second round. With his back against the wall, Lyoto Machida not only ended his losing streak and redeemed himself, he did so by creating one of the greatest finishes in UFC history. It is moments like this that will forever leave me enamoured with this sport.