When news came down that UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman had suffered an injury while training for his next title defense, the UFC began scrambling to find a replacement to stand in against Vitor Belfort on February 28. The name that UFC president Dana White came up with was one-time light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida, who has gone 3-1 since dropping to 185 pounds.
White later said that Machida accepted the bout on less than a month’s notice, but that Belfort declined the offer. So what was the whole story?
Machida’s manager Ed Soares was a guest on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, and he said White’s version was pretty much dead on.
"That is what happened," he told Ariel Helwani. "Dana called me and asked me if Lyoto would be interested in fighting Vitor Belfort on February 28, and I said I believe so, but let me just check with him really quick. I called Lyoto and before I could even finish the question he basically said yes, send me the bout agreement. So I called Dana back and told him, and he said great, now I got to clear it with Vitor.
"Then about 15 minutes later, Dana called me, pretty pissed off, saying Vitor didn’t want to fight [Lyoto], and didn’t want to accept the fight. He said that [Vitor] said he didn’t want to fight him because he’d been training for [Weidman], and he wasn’t training for a southpaw, and that he wouldn’t have enough time to prepare for a southpaw."
Though he knocked out then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva with a left hand at UFC 162, Weidman is an orthodox fighter. The champion was originally supposed to defend his title against Belfort at UFC 181 in December, but was forced to postpone due to an injury.
Lightning struck again on the Ray Longo fighter this past week when Weidman suffered a rib injury during wrestling practice. With only a month to prepare from a right-handed fighter to a leftie was enough for Belfort to take a pass.
"About 20 minutes later I texted Dana and said, 'tell him that Lyoto will start every round with his left foot forward,'" Soares said. "Dana just [texted back], ‘LOL.’"
The 36-year old Machida is coming off of a resounding victory over C.B. Dollaway at UFC Fight Night 58 in Brazil. In that fight, Machida landed a hard kick to Dollaway’s body that crumpled him over in pain. He finished the fight moments later with follow-up strikes.
Before then he lost a unanimous decision to Weidman at UFC 175, in a fight that he appeared to be picking up momentum as it played out. The bout with Belfort represented a chance to expedite a rematch with Weidman.
"Lyoto wanted that fight," Soares said. "He really wanted the opportunity for him to fight for the interim title and also to be able to face Vitor Belfort. It was everything that Lyoto wanted."
Though it appears that Machida will now stick to his originally scheduled fight with Luke Rockhold, which is slated to take place at UFC on FOX 15 on April 18 in New Jersey, he would have welcomed the chance to settle some minor contentions he’s had with Belfort.
"I wouldn’t say they have a history," Soares said. "There’s no negative or bad blood, but when Lyoto didn’t accept that fight -- I believe it was against Jon Jones, the short notice fight at UFC 152, when he was on his way to Brazil for the grand opening of his academy -- Vitor did say something about the [Brazilian national] anthem, about [how] ‘the son of Brazil doesn’t run away from the fight.’"
(The actual lyrics are, "Thou wilt see that a son of thine flees not from battle…")
"Basically Vitor kind of put that out there almost insinuating that Lyoto was running from the fight. So that bummed out Lyoto. So now, in a roundabout way Lyoto is kind of feeling, well, what happened to the son of this country? He’s running from this fight."
UFC 184, which takes place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, will now be headlined by women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in a title defense against Cat Zingano.