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Rafael Carvalho questions Lyoto Machida’s motivations in move to Bellator

Rafael Carvalho faces Lyoto Machida in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Rafael Carvalho and Lyoto Machida are in different stages of their careers, but the former Bellator champion wonders if the two countrymen share the same aspirations in the sport.

Carvalho, who is 15-2 in MMA, is looking to rebound from a title loss to Gegard Mousasi that he suffered in May. Machida, a former UFC champion with a record of 24-8, makes his Bellator debut after a competing for more than a decade in the Octagon.

The Brazilian middleweights will collide on Saturday in the co-main event of Bellator 213 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Carvalho expects to face the best Machida has to offer — even if he questions what Machida’s plans for his Bellator future are at 40 years old.

”I don’t know what his motivations are,” Carvalho told MMA Fighting. “He talks about fighting for the belt, but sometimes he doesn’t really [seem like he wants] the belt. He had a brilliant career, and I believe that names like him, Wanderlei Silva, Quinton ‘Rampage’ (Jackson), Fedor (Emelianenko) are big stars for the show.

”I don’t know if he really wants to get to the belt or if he wants superfights, but I do. I have that ambition, but I don’t think he does want to become champion anymore.”

Because of Machida’s big name, Carvalho sees his upcoming clash with “The Dragon” as more important than if he was fighting for the Bellator championship.

”The name he has, the brilliant career he’s had in MMA, winning this fight would take me to another level,” said Carvalho, who came in overweight (186.5 pounds) at the official weigh-ins Friday. “People would start to see me with different eyes. That’s why this fight is so important for me. This win would earn me another shot at the title.”

A former UFC light heavyweight champion, Machida has won five of nine bouts since cutting down to middleweight five years ago. Included over that span is a memorable decision loss to then-champion Chris Weidman in 2014.

Both Carvalho and Machida are primarily strikers in MMA, but the Bellator veteran made sure he was “ready for everything because we never know what will happen.”

”I’ve never seen Lyoto go for takedowns,” he said, “but he has submissions in his record. I believe he will stand and trade with me, but I have to be ready.”

Carvalho really took that seriously ahead of Bellator 213.

Rafael Carvalho won many medals since losing the Bellator title.
Photo courtesy of Rafael Carvalho

After a quick loss to Mousasi in May, the Rio de Janeiro native entered many jiu-jitsu and grappling tournaments in Brazil to test his ground skills and stay in rhythm. Asked how he did in those tournaments, Carvalho sat down to count the medals he collected over the past few months.

Five gold medals.

Asked how many matches he had to win to capture them all, he laughed. “I have no idea,” he responded before estimating around 25 wins over the past several months.

”I was competing to test myself,” Carvalho said. “They are full-time jiu-jitsu fighters, I’m a MMA fighter. I don’t focus only on jiu-jitsu, I train Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, everything, so they have the responsibility to win. Winning a medal or not, that’s consequence of the competition, but going there and submitting people, winning medals, that shows I’m on the right path.”

Carvalho still is a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, and jokes that a submission win over a black belt like Machida should be enough to receive the brown belt by his master. “I’ll definitely get the brown belt with two degrees,” he said, laughing.

A submission over “The Dragon,” something that only Jon Jones and Luke Rockhold were able to achieve so far in MMA, could be enough to not only guarantee a jiu-jitsu brown belt, but also another shot at the middleweight gold.

Carvalho thinks he needs to “win convincingly” and show Scott Coker and matchmaker Rich Chou “that I’m ready to fight for the belt” in order to be next in line for the title he once held. That Bellator middleweight title will be on the line on Jan. 26, when Mousasi puts his belt on the line against undefeated Rafael Lovato Jr. in California.

”I think Lovato has a chance to go there and surprise everyone,” Carvalho said. “He has evolved a lot on the feet, and we don’t need to talk about his ground game, it’s at the highest level. If Mousasi underestimates him, Lovato can surprise him.”

If both Carvalho and Lovato win their next bouts, Evolucao Thai head coach Andre Dida will have a problem to figure out. Carvalho has been training in the gym for years, and Lovato occasionally travels to Curitiba to prepare for his fights with Dida and the likes of Wanderlei Silva.

”I haven’t really thought about it yet, haven’t talked to Dida about it,” Carvalho said. “Let’s wait and see what happens after our fights. That’s not a problem for me to deal with, it’s for Dida. Lovato trains with Dida’s brother, so we have to wait for the next chapters.”