By Thomas Gerbasi
On October 24th, UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and challenger Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will be anything but friendly as they battle tooth and nail in the Octagon at Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center. But as they made their way to Tuesday’s UFC 104 press conference in the City of Angels, they were just a couple of old buddies who wound up sitting next to each other on the flight from Brazil.
“Lyoto is a nice guy and we’ve known each other for a while,” said Rua through translator / manager Eduardo Alonso at Nokia Plaza in LA. “Even though we are friends, I got very surprised to see him on the plane and actually sitting next to me for the whole flight from Brazil to here. It was a funny situation, but we’re both professionals, we’re training very hard and we both want the same goal, so we’re gonna do our best.”
Machida also smiled when recalling his travel companion. “We are great friends, no problems.”
October 24th may be a different story though, as two of the 205-pound division’s finest collide in a diehard fight fan’s dream fight. In one corner, it’s the technically brilliant Machida, a cool assassin who has yet to taste defeat in mixed martial arts. In the other, it’s the more visceral Rua, the former PRIDE star who finally looks to be back in form after two knee surgeries. It’s an intriguing clash of styles to say the least, and the possibility of a war to remember is definitely in the cards once the bell rings.
“Lyoto is a standup fighter,” said Rua. “I’m a standup fighter myself, but he comes from karate and is a very good counterstriker; he fights in a very efficient style. I’m a Muay Thai fighter and I fight much more in a pressing style by being aggressive. I think this is a big motivation for me, to show and prove that Muay Thai can be very efficient against his style.”
“My style is karate,” said Machida, who was schooled in the art by his father, Yoshizo. “My personal style is counterstriking. Shogun is a very aggressive fighter with good knees, good punching, but I’ll try to push him into my style.”
That’s been Machida’s M.O. since coming to the UFC, where he has taken down the likes of Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz, and Thiago Silva, before blasting his way to the light heavyweight title with his knockout of Rashad Evans in May. “Karate is back,” yelled Machida after his title-winning effort, and his style, temperament, and dominance has garnered him no small amount of praise – and not just from fans, but from his fellow fighters.
“He’s starting to break the lines between being a fighter and being a mixed martial artist, and to me that’s very important,” said heavyweight Ben Rothwell, in town to promote his UFC 104 co-main event against Cain Velasquez. “He’s starting to show the world that this is a competition. This is the UFC and these are the best professional athletes in the world.”
To get ready for the task of figuring out Belem’s Machida, Rua will train close to home in Curitiba, a switch from the training camp in Sao Paulo he used for his knockout win over Chuck Liddell in April.
“Each fight is a different story,” said Rua. “To fight Chuck Liddell I believed I needed to emphasize boxing, and Sao Paulo has the best boxing in Brazil, so I went there to train and to prepare. For this fight against Lyoto I think I need different aspects of training, so me and my team talked about it and we decided to stay in Curitiba for this fight. My team is my team, but I’ll go wherever is best for my strategy and my opponent, and I’ll bring my team with me.”
As for the champion, he’s not about to rest on his laurels. Instead, he approaches the fight with the hunger of a challenger.
“I keep training a lot for the night of the fight,” said Machida. “This is my first title defense and I hope I’ll win. My opponent is tough, a great person, very good on the ground and (in his) striking, but I know one thing – I’ll keep doing my homework.”
VELASQUEZ – ROTHWELL
The big men of the UFC were on the dais as well Tuesday, with Cain Velasquez and Ben Rothwell discussing their October bout. For both men, their fight resulted from the removal of Shane Carwin from the UFC 104 card to take on Brock Lesnar later this year. Velasquez, who was originally scheduled to fight Carwin, was then given the task of taking on Rothwell, who was going to make his UFC debut against Chase Gormley. Rothwell is pleased with his change of fortune.
“I embrace the challenge,” said Big Ben, the former IFL standout. “They offered me the opportunity to be a co-main event against Cain, who’s established himself in the UFC, and I was all for it. I feel like I’ve been paying my dues for a long time, and this is my time.”
Velasquez, unbeaten in six pro bouts, also feels like he’s getting closer to the top of the mountain, and switching from Carwin to Rothwell makes no difference to him.
“It doesn’t change anything,” said Velasquez, who is coming off a June win over Cheick Kongo. “I just have to get ready for a new guy. I do believe down the road I’m gonna be able to fight those guys, Shane or Brock Lesnar, and whether it’s down the road or now, I’m gonna be ready for it.”
And though Velazquez will most likely enter the Octagon at STAPLES Center as the favorite, this debut has been a long time coming for the 30-6 Rothwell, and he plans on making the most of it.
“I’ve been doing this for ten years, and all along, it’s always been about being in the UFC,” he said. “In ten years, I really feel like I’ve had no accomplishments. It sounds like I’ve done some things, but to me, it’s all been training to come here to the UFC. I know it’s gonna be a great fight because I have a tough opponent like Cain, but I’m gonna show you what you all came to see.”
The Calm Before The Storm - Machida, Rua Meet The Press in LA
Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - On October 24th, UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and challenger Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will be anything but friendly as they battle tooth and nail in the Octagon at Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center. But as they made their way to Tuesday’s UFC 104 press conference in the City of Angels, they were just a couple of old buddies who wound up sitting next to each other on the flight from Brazil.