It is safe to say that with his victory over Mark Munoz, Lyoto Machida has vaulted himself into the the upper echelon of the middleweight rankings. In the official UFC fighter rankings, he emerged at No. 5, which is close to where he sits in The MMA Corner’s own rankings, considering that our fighter rankings do no have a slot for the champion. Whether you want to rank him at the bottom, top or somewhere in the middle, the point is that he belongs in the title picture.

There is the possibility that the title pictures becomes stalled with a potential trilogy on the horizon if Anderson Silva is able to regain his title, but let’s just put that scenario aside for the moment. Machida is set to take on fellow former light heavyweight Gegard Mousasi this February. Considering the former Strikeforce champion is currently ranked as the No. 8 light heavyweight in the UFC rankings, it would be a quality victory for Machida, should he win the fight.

The hardest part in predicting who would get the next title shot has to do with the fighters who are currently ranked above Machida. Vitor Belfort and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza have been on the warpath lately, and it would be hard to deny either one of them a chance at gold, provided they continue their winning ways. But if Machida remains on track and continues to be successful at middleweight, he will be nipping at their heels.

Despite there being no denying his abilities and potential, let’s pump the brakes a little bit before we get ahead of ourselves.

In order for the metamorphosis into a middleweight contender to truly be complete, there must be a mental transformation as much as a physical one. At this point, we know that Machida is capable of making 185 pounds, and there is no reason to think that he won’t be able to make it again. However, the “kill or be killed” mentality that comes with being an elite fighter is in question. We saw Machida’s aggressiveness against Randy Couture, Ryan Bader and Munoz, but where was it when he took on Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Dan Henderson or Phil Davis? In those fights, we saw the patient counter-striker, not the aggressive finisher.

The last two light heavyweight fights that the Brazilian had were genuine snooze-fests. Sure, he is known for his counter-striking abilities and how he capitalizes on small windows, but his opponents know this too, which resulted in Henderson and Davis sitting back and waiting for Machida to engage. They made an effort to counter-strike the counter-striker.

For the former light heavyweight champion to truly emerge as the next middleweight contender, the mental change needs to come with the physical one. Cutting back and eating healthy will keep him slim for his future fights, but if he doesn’t flip the switch and live on the edge of danger by unleashing the attack rather than just sitting back and waiting for a window, he could float around the upper regions of the middle of the division, as he did as a light heavyweight ever since he lost his title to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

The first step of change is always the hardest. Machida passed that test with flying colors as he moved to the middleweight division, weighed in without a hitch and put on an amazing performance. Now, it is up to him as to whether or not he wants to rise up by being more aggressive or fall back by continuing to wait for opponents to come to him.

In order for Machida to truly be the next contender at 185 pounds, he must bring the fight to his opponent, not the other way around.

Photo: Lyoto Machida (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Brian McKenna
Staff Writer

Brian McKenna was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. A sports nut from as long as he can remember, he came to be a fan of Mixed Martial Arts from a roommate watching The Ultimate Fighter while attending Westfield State College. Brian came to writing by starting his own blog, Four Down Territory, which focuses on Boston based sports, life, and of course MMA.