When Lyoto Machida joined Bellator after back-to-back UFC wins over Eryk Anders and Vitor Belfort, many expected him to be a win away from a shot at Gegard Mousasi’s middleweight title or Ryan Bader’s light heavyweight belt. Yet, “The Dragon” is now entering now third Bellator bout with no title on the line.
Machida will face now former champion Mousasi in the co-main event of Bellator 228 on Sept. 28 in Inglewood, Calif., and admits he’s also surprised that it’s taking so long for him to challenge for a belt in Bellator, but explains that it was his call this time.
The karate specialist told MMA Fighting that he was offered the option to wait for 185-pound champion Rafael Lovato Jr. to recover from an injury after knocking out Chael Sonnen in a light heavyweight bout in June, but wasn’t interested in wasting any time on the sidelines.
“I imagined that (a title shot) would come earlier, after my first win, but I choose to look it a different way,” Machida said. “Every fight is a new experience for me, it will only make me stronger and better prepared to get to my goal, which is the belt. It’s not a bad thing for me, it’s actually good. I like to stay active.
“In fact, Lovato couldn’t fight sooner, looks like he’s injured, and I wanted to stay active. I won’t wait for a moment. No, I’ll prepare for my moment with every fight I take.”
Machida and Mousasi fought once in the past already, back when both were light heavyweights and the Brazilian won a five-round main event of UFC card in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. Machida chooses to ignore Mousasi’s greasing and doping accusations, saying they both have evolved a lot over the past five and a half years and he expects the best version of Mousasi at Bellator 228.
“We know Mousasi’s game, I’ve fought him in the past,” said Machida, who believes that a three-round bout favors his fighting style. “Every fight is a different moment, we have a different strategy, but the mindset is always the same. Mousasi is the most dangerous opponent I’m fighting right now. I’m training hard and dedicating to not get surprised against him and be able to get the knockout win, or even the submission.”
When Mousasi made the transition from UFC to Bellator in 2017 he earned a shot at the belt with a decision win over Alexander Shlemenko and went on to steamroll Rafael Carvalho to sit at the middleweight throne. Shortly after a dominant victory over Rory MacDonald, Mousasi lost the belt in a big upset against Lovato.
Machida wasn’t that surprised, though.
“I know Mousasi is very technical, but Lovato can’t be underestimated,” Machida said. “Even though Lovato doesn’t have as many fights in MMA as Mousasi does, he’s focused and he’s evolving. He transitioned really well from jiu-jitsu to MMA, and that didn’t surprise me. I’ve had the opportunity to train with Lovato in the past a few times and he’s super humble and dedicated.
“When you lose focus and discipline… I’m not saying that’s what happened with Mousasi, but I believe that dedication matters, and Lovato has invested a lot in his career.”
Prior to Ryan Bader’s recent heavyweight title defense versus Cheick Kongo — and post-fight altercation with Quinton Jackson —, Bellator president Scott Coker said that Bader’s next title defense at light heavyweight could be against the winner of Machida vs. Mousasi even though they are fighting at middleweight. That could change with the talks of booking a rematch between Bader and “Rampage”, but Machida is optimistic that his next fight will be for a belt.
“I had in mind that I would fight for the 185-pound title first, which is the weight class I’m fighting more frequently over the past few years, but there’s this history with Bader,” said Machida, who stopped Bader back in 2012. “Ryan Bader being the light heavyweight champion opens the door for this chance for the light heavyweight belt.
“I want to become Bellator champion, I want this opportunity. My priority now is to fight Mousasi and then go after the belt, doesn’t matter if it’s against Lovato or Ryan Bader.”