Lyoto Machida needed six straight wins in the UFC to earn a shot at the light heavyweight title in 2009. Five years and one day later, in the same arena, the karate fighter will challenge Chris Weidman for the middleweight championship in Las Vegas, Nev., on May 24.
"It was a surprise for me, I wasn’t expecting that," Machida told MMAFighting.com. "I thought I would fight around June or July and got this news."
Machida was preparing to travel to Ohio when his manager Ed Soares called him with the news. Vitor Belfort, who initially was scheduled to challenge Weidman for the title at UFC 173, was out of the fight.
"Ed (Soares) called me and said ‘I think they had a problem with Vitor and you’ll have to fight for the title’," he said. "I said sure, that’s great.
"I was already slowly returning to training," he continued. "I’m still suspended, but I believe I’ll be completely cleared to return to training next week. I’m always active, so it helps my performance."
Styles makes fights, and Machida is confident that his lightning fast striking game and good takedown defense will be the key to hand Weidman his first loss in MMA.
"I’ve fought a lot of wrestlers before, and I know Weidman has a good wrestling, but I’m confident on the work I’m developing with my team," he said. "I believe in my striking game against Weidman’s wrestling. He’s complete in every aspect of the game, but I’m confident in what I do."
A win at UFC 173 would be a historic one for Machida. The Brazilian, a former light heavyweight champion, will join B.J. Penn and Randy Couture as the only fighters to win UFC belts in multiple weight classes if he beats Weidman in Las Vegas, but he’s not paying attention to those stats yet.
"This is the consequence of our work. I can’t focus on that," he said. "Records and numbers are cool, everybody wants that, but I try not to think about that."
"The Dragon" is the underdog against Weidman, but (again) that’s something he doesn’t care.
"I don’t pay attention to those things," he said. "I got to a stage in my career where I’m more focused in what I’m doing than in what people bet or what is Weidman training. That’s what matters. The experience that I have and what I’ve done makes me more comfortable in a situation like this."