“Welcome to the Machida Era.”

Joe Rogan’s hasty prophecy at UFC 98 remains a dream deferred for fans of Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. And after Machida failed to unseat middleweight champion Chris Weidman in July, many wonder if he’s finally lost his shot at a license to legacy—“legacy” here being in that grand epitaphic sense, the Hall of Fame kind which, over the years, distills great athletes into great statistics and gives followers lasting proof for their passions.

Machida and his fans were never closer to achieving this goal than during last month’s title fight when the karateka had a chance to become one of only three fighters in UFC history to win belts in separate weight divisions—the other two being all-time greats Randy Couture and B.J. Penn. This, among other hypeful factoids, was heavily publicized before Weidman vs. Machida as part of the fight’s primordial narrative. Machida would be an underdog, but an underdog that needed only one good bite to gain a seat at the glory table. Compared to Weidman’s mission of proving that the two Anderson Silva fights weren’t just flukes (this was the most dominant promo message on the champ’s side by far), the Machida story was the better lure. Chasing immortal, legacy-binding victory is usually the most literary narrative in sports and a trump for getting people interested in its figures, or rather figureheads. For instance, I’m no racing fan, but even I find myself intrigued by names like Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna because of the prestige they hold in the G.O.A.T. club.

When athletes achieve this legendary status, they become ambassadors for their sport, household names that reach across the aisles of fringe fandom toward the mainstream, a conversion that every fan, admittedly or not, craves. Fandom, after all, is a somewhat religious experience. Even the word “fan,” an abbreviation of “fanatic” according to the Oxford Dictionary, is derived from the Latin “fanum,” meaning “temple.”

As sports fans, we focus our hopes in a team or an individual in order to stake a personal claim in their victory. We worship in a lottery of faith, and we like to see our faith rewarded. We like to see it justified, especially on the grand scale of legacy, the sporting world’s ultimate form of ascension. Almost overnight, a name can become the name. And if you were one of the early disciples shouting it from the beginning, you can feel like you’ve contributed to its success, or you can at least feel like you chose the right banner to follow.

The cult of Machida has been alive since 2003, back when he was outclassing solid fighters like Rich Franklin and Stephan Bonnar. Like his most recent opponent, Weidman, Machida was undefeated when he won UFC’s light heavyweight belt in 2009. He held a 14-0 record against a who’s who of contenders. What’s more, the Dragon’s style was unlike anything the UFC had ever seen. He was, as pundit after pundit would and will describe him, elusive. He showcased an ability to turn a fight into a snake chase—as fighters would run after the Brazilian only to receive a swift strike from his southpaw cross for their troubles. He was invincible, and it seemed like he would be for a long time. This prompted that ill-fated prediction from Rogan and the idea of Machida as an all-timer.

This is what his fans—and likely Machida himself, though he denies thinking in terms of legacy in all of his pre-fight interviews—were hoping to see achieved at UFC 175. But after the fight ended, the fiction of a great legacy remained a fiction, with Weidman blocking the former champion at the gates.

Despite his determination, passion and sheer guts (see rounds four and five of the Weidman fight), Machida failed to grasp the gold and, perhaps, longstanding greatness in the eyes of the MMA world en masse. And with the Dragon now growing long in the tooth—he’s 36 years old—it’s possible that this was his last chance. It’s possible that in the long run Machida will be relegated into that other half of sports history which sits apart from legacy: trivia. His story might simply be that of a one-year titleholder who was always a top-flight contender, but never an all-time great. Though the faithful will hold on to this narrative of potential legacy, it may never form away from fiction. Machida’s a great fighter, but not a Hall of Famer. Just almost, almost.

Then again, it’s possible that, like Rogan’s proclamation of a “Machida Era,” any words on his falling short of MMA immortality are a bit premature. He still has faith in himself, according to all accounts, and so do his fans. Perhaps both will see the heights in the coming years. For the time being, the history books and the Hall of Fame are still open for the Dragon.

About The Author

Paul French
Staff Writer

Paul French is a martial arts enthusiast currently residing in Cloudcroft, N.M. He's the former Managing Editor for the literary magazine, Puerto del Sol, and has had poetry published in Word Riot, Harpur Palate and Slipstream. Paul has trained in Karate, Muay Thai, Taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu.

  • TKD fan

    Lyoto doesnt need to prove himself to the world by winning another belt. He has already achieved notoriety through his style and bringing Karate back to the fore-front. He is & always will be a role-model for the rest of us martial artists..as he brought traditional martial arts to the brutul MMA world and made it more respectful. Lyoto aside from being the consummate gentleman is a disciplined killer.

  • masood

    Couldn’t of said it better myself, I completely agree with the last comment. Machida doesn’t need to prove himself, for fans like me he’s turned the ufc from a bar brawl street fight into a disciplined mma. He comes in the ring with a discipline, he fights disciplined with composure and can put your lights like the best of them.