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Lyoto Machida: Training with Vitor Belfort’s ex-coach ‘gives me an advantage’ at UFC 224, but not that much

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Lyoto Machida faces Vitor Belfort at UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro.
Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

Lyoto Machida bounced back to the win column in February when he scored his first UFC victory since Dec. 2014, and now he already has another bout scheduled. “The Dragon” is slated to meet Vitor Belfort, a fellow former UFC light heavyweight champion, at the company’s upcoming pay-per-view event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 24.

Coming off a close decision win over Eryk Anders in Belem — a fight he believes he won with rounds one, three, and five — Machida likes the “challenge” that Belfort presents, and vows to “do the best preparation I can for this fight.”

“The Phenom” wasn’t the first name he had in his mind for his next bout, though. Moments after defeating Anders in Belem, Machida called out former middleweight champion Michael Bisping. Machida was asked about Belfort at the post-fight press conference and said he was open to the matchup, even though he wasn’t a fan of the idea of facing a fellow Brazilian.

”They are fighters with different characteristics, one is a southpaw and other one is right-handed,” Machida told MMA Fighting. “Sometimes Vitor Belfort looks for counters, and Bisping attacks more. When I prepare for a fight, I never expect it to be easy. I believe that that would create a chance for me to not give my best in the Octagon. I always go there to put on a fight knowing that my opponent is well prepared and will do his best. That’s the challenge that motivates me.”

Machida had karate specialist Vinicio Anthony as his head coach for the first time in years at UFC Belem and came out victorious. He will continue working with Anthony going forward, and that could give him an advantage at UFC 224, since Belfort has trained with Anthony for some of his UFC fights over the past few years.

”He has already trained Belfort, but I think that every fight is unique,” Machida said. “Every training process is a process. That gives me an advantage in a technical aspect, of course, but a fight is way more than the technical part. A fight involves the emotion, the strategy of combat. There are many factors connected to a fight. The fact that he has known Vitor in the past is only one of them.”

Both Machida and Belfort had a respectful approach with one another on social media after the fight was announced, but their relationship wasn’t that good a few years ago. When Dan Henderson pulled out of UFC 151 with an injury, and Jon Jones needed a new opponent for UFC 152 in 2012, the karate specialist was offered a chance on short notice, but turned it down.

“The Phenom” took the fight and said on social media that fighters were “acting like divas” by turning down fights in the UFC. He didn’t mention Machida in his post, but that created some heat between them. Belfort later apologized to his countryman, saying it wasn’t directed to him in the first place.

Six years later, they are finally booked to compete against each other in Brazil, and “The Dragon” doesn’t hold grudges.

”I have a good relationship with him, we’ve trained together in the past, but we’re professionals and want to do our best for the fans,” Machida said. “This is a fight that could have happened in the past, but hasn’t. I have a lot of respect not only for the fighter, but the man Vitor Belfort. I think he has done a lot for the sport, and we all have to respect him. I mean, what’s in the past is in the past. Moments like those are part of any athlete’s career.”

UFC 224 will mark the final bout of Belfort’s current deal in the UFC, and he has said many times that it will be his last in the Octagon.

”The fact that this is Vitor’s last fight in the UFC, that’s something personal for him and I try not to get involved with that and not think about it,” Machida said. “I believe that every fight is unique and try to eliminate external factors that might interfere in the fight. To me, Vitor is the toughest guy I’m fighting today, Vitor is the most dangerous fighter I’m fighting, because that’s how I see all of my fights.”

Can this end up being Machida’s final fight in the sport, too?

”This is Vitor’s farewell fight, but I still don’t see this as my last fight,” Machida responded. “I feel well, I don’t think about stopping now. I always say I still have a lot of wood to burn. I’m happy with my return and motivated for the next challenges. My goal is to put on a good fight and climb the ranking to earn another shot at the title again. I know that I still have fights to fight before I get there, but my focus is one challenge at a time.”