06 Dec - 
Ahead of Bellator debut, ex-UFC-champ Lyoto Machida discusses (dual?) championship pursuit

Asked whether he expects a title shot to come from a win at Bellator 213, Lyoto Machida doesn’t beat around the bush.

“Of course,” Machida told MMAjunkie. “I see it as more than certain: Getting past this fight, winning this fight on (Dec. 15), my next fight will really be for the belt.”

While this type of bluntness might seem a little surprising coming from the ever-diplomatic Machida, it’s not like he’s being controversial. With middleweight champion Gegard Mousasi already set to defend his belt against Rafael Lovato Jr., many view Machida’s clash with Rafael Carvalho as a title eliminator.

The elements are there. Carvalho (15-2 MMA, 6-1 BMMA) is, after all a former champion – the one who Mousasi personally dethroned, at that. Albeit new to the promotion, Machida (24-8 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) is is both a former UFC champion and a household name, as well as arguably one of the all-time highest-profile Bellator signings.

It doesn’t hurt that the middleweight encounter is in a prime spot of Bellator’s Hawaiian debut weekend, set to co-headline Bellator 213 on Dec. 15 at Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu. Or that the division’s the current champion has lost to Machida in 2014 and has made no secret of his desire for a rematch.

First things first, though, as there are two bouts that need to unfold before this hypothetical title fight comes together.

Machida had previously talked to MMAjunkie about his booking with “super talented, super tough” Carvalho, whom he saw as the perfect foe for his debut. Giving his own view of the match-up, Carvalho was also quite respectful of Machida, but said he entered the bout with a card up his sleeve: his coach, Andre Dida.

Dida, it turns out, was part of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s camp in his fights with Machida. After losing a decision in their very tight first meeting, Rua went on to win their rematch, knocking Machida out in the first round to claim the title and ruin Machida’s perfect record.

Their second bout, however, took place in 2010. And if Carvalho is preparing for that Machida, he might be in for a bit of a surprise.

“As high-level athletes, we’re always improving and changing,” Machida said. “Of course, some change more than others, this varies from athlete to athlete. And I consider myself an athlete who has been changing a lot. I’ve been adding new situations to training, new technical acquisitions.

“This makes me a different fighter today than I was 10 years ago. If with each camp we change, I believe today I’m a much more well-rounded athlete. More experienced. And much more prepared to be champion again.”

That word, “champion,” is one that Machida uses a lot. Coming into Bellator off a two-fight winning streak, including a highlight-reel knockout of fellow former UFC champion Vitor Belfort, Machida hasn’t shied away from voicing his ambitions.

On the one hand, that makes absolute sense. If Machida never let his sights out of title contention even during a rough three-fight UFC losing skid, with a long, controversial suspension to boot, why would it be different now that he’s back on track?

On the other hand, when it comes to MMA, there’s very little that is new to the 40-year-old “Dragon.” He’s won and lost the UFC’s 205-pound title. He challenged for it once more, before dropping to middleweight and having yet another title stab there. He’s scored highlight-reel knockouts and intrigued fans with his karate-based style. He’s made a name for himself in a volatile sport.

As he begins his path in a new promotion, with the chance to make good money and put on high-entertainment fights, one would understand it if a belt was a mere afterthought for the veteran.

Why isn’t it, then?

“I am moved by my dreams and my challenges,” Machida said. “I wouldn’t be in the sport just because of the money. I wouldn’t be in the sport only because of the reception or the fame. I’m in this sport because I need to have something much stronger. Something much bigger. I’ve learned this since I was a kid. That you need to have goals laid out in front of you, always. That’s what it’s about for me. As soon as I became champion, I thought, ‘I want to defend the belt.’ Then I defended it once and lost the belt, ‘now I want to win the belt again.’

“It’s no different in Bellator. I won’t be there just – I think, and that’s my opinion, that it gets a little vague to be there just for the money. I am there because I know I can use Bellator as a platform to not only be champion, but also to relay to another generation, to relay to people, an example…. To me, being champion again is a challenge. I like challenges and I chase my dreams.”

Say Machida beats Carvalho and ends up securing a title shot. He’s still going to have to wait and see what comes of the match between champ Mousasi (45-6-2 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) and jiu-jitsu ace Lovato Jr. (9-0 MMA, 5-0 BMMA), who meet at Bellator 214, on Jan. 26.

Machida sees tough fighters in both champ and challenger and, as the cliche goes, “a fight is a fight.” He does, however, give the edge to Mousasi there, on account of his MMA experience and “because he has a more well-rounded game in general.”

Despite Mousasi’s own interest in a do-over with Machida, though, “The Dragon” says he doesn’t care what the outcome is.

“My goal is the belt,” Machida said. “My goal is to become champion. So, to me, it doesn’t matter if it’s Mousasi, if it’s Lovato, or if it’s some other in front of me. I’m thinking of me. I’m thinking that I need to get past this fight now, to do it very well, and go for my bigger goal.”

When it comes to said goal, here’s another interesting tidbit. It just so happens that the champion of Bellator’s 205-pound class has not only fought Machida once in the UFC, but he’s lost – and, like Mousasi, he’s made it clear that he would be open to a rematch.

So how does the thought of not only one, but two titles sit with “The Dragon”?

“When I signed with Bellator, my offer was to flow between the two divisions,” Machida said. “To fight in below, above, to take on great challenges. And I’m trying to always pursue that: challenges. And, for me, the 205-pound division is a challenge, as well.

“Ryan Bader has always shown himself an upstanding guy. He’s a very honorable fighter in what he does, you can see that on his behavior, and all. But, as professionals, we want to face the best. And I, for sure, also want to fight the 205-pound champion, who is Ryan Bader.”

But one thing at a time, Machida adds. It remains to be seen whether he’ll get his shot at one title, let alone two. Regardless, there is one goal that he’s hoping he can achieve after a three-fight 2018.

“I want to stay active,” Machida said. “I want to keep fighting. I want to try to fight three times next year, as well. I’ve always been a competitor. I like being in action. And, the more in action you are, the more rhythm you get and I like that. Time is passing and I can’t be playing around. I’ve got to make the most of it.”

For more on Bellator 213, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.