Lyoto philosophical ahead of Hendo clash

February, 20, 2013
Gross By Josh Gross

PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- When Lyoto Machida steps into the Octagon Saturday against Dan Henderson, this is what he'll tell himself for the 22nd time as a professional mixed martial artist.

"Agora a hora."

Now is the hour.

In more ways than one, it's an apt phrase for the former UFC light heavyweight champion as he heads into the co-main event of UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif. At the age of 34, the quick Brazilian stands at the precipice. A win over Henderson, 42, should slot Machida into another UFC title shot. A loss would mean he’s lost four of six fights. This sets up with high stakes.

His hope is that it "will happen naturally. I was supposed to be fighting Jon Jones when Dan Henderson couldn't do it. Then Vitor Belfort, who had nothing to do with anything, stepped up and fought. Now Chael Sonnen [gets a title shot]. If I would be thinking about it, it would be a waste of time.

"My philosophy is to sort things out as they come."

This brought Machida, who was sitting inside his living room in front of a large sliding glass door that opens to a backyard exploding with palm trees, back to the fight in front of him.

"I'm not looking past Dan Henderson," he said.

For reasons far beyond philosophical that better be true. The reality is a loss, a legit possibility against the iconic Henderson, would mean that after winning his first 16 contests, Machida and his 18-4 record doesn't sound so hot.

Machida remembers being 18, watching Henderson, and realizing then that fighting was more than a career to the man -- it was in his blood. He said he felt the same. Since 1997, Henderson proved himself against anyone willing to try their luck. No shortage of Brazilians are on that list. Jorge Guimaraes, the jack-of-all-trades Brazilian media personality and manager at Blackhouse, gave me a lift to Machida's new home near enough to the Pacific Ocean that the air was crisp. He remembered being at Henderson's first fight, when the sport was anything goes on all fronts. Henderson won, the promoter freaked and demanded that action restart with a new referee. The entire time, Guimaraes said, the Olympic wrestler stayed loose in his corner, and happily offered to do it again. They did not. Sixteen years later, the former two-division Pride champion still resides on pound-for-pound lists, and is currently enjoying one of the most impressive stretches of his career.

After offering a laundry list of superlatives, Machida didn't bother to mention Henderson’s use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy. Machida said it isn't worthwhile to speak of such things. And it doesn’t change the fact that Henderson is “a guy that accepts exchanges. He doesn't mind standing up and banging. He's a well-rounded fighter that comes forward. We pretty much have the same style. Wherever the fight is is good for both of us."

Machida appeared trim and fit while relaxing at home the Monday before the fight. He's taken it easy since last Thursday, a hard sparring day at the Blackhouse facility a half-hour away in Gardena, giving him plenty of time to re-enact the closing scene to "Rocky III" with his young son, Taiyo. The youth plays Rocky, and knows enough to stand southpaw like his dad, Apollo. Ding. Ding. The only thing missing was the pair dissolving into a Leroy Neiman painting.

"'Rocky III' or 'Rocky IV,' all day long," said Fabyola Machida, shaking her head at her husband and child. Taiyo even named the Machida family French bulldog puppy "Rocky," though the brindle typically responds to "Hockey."

"It's a different moment in my life," Machida said. "I've always wanted peace of mind. And training in a place that has all the infrastructure. Over here you can focus a lot better than in Brazil. Things work a lot better here."

There are more palm trees too, chuckled Guimaraes. Branches almost reach the inside of the upstairs master bedroom, which has been a point of controversy between the mostly zen karateka and his wife.

"Lyoto wants blackout curtains," said Fabyola. "I said no, have to see the sun everyday."

"Sometimes, even with my wife, we don't agree on everything," he said. "But I don't want to waste a night of sleep over a little discussion."

It took 10 years before Machida agreed to move to Los Angeles, like Fabyola had wished. Machida wasn't prepared to leave his influential father and brothers and Belem, Brazil, the city of the mango trees. But after being choked unconscious by Jon Jones in Dec. 2011, a change seemed appropriate. In May, he and his wife bought the two story house with all the palm trees. Machida said he knew it was the right place the moment he walked through the door. Then last August, Machida looked great against Ryan Bader at the Staples Center.

Machida doesn’t recall why he uttered “agora a hora” to himself the first time he fought. He's not sure why he continues to say it. But he does. “The Dragon” noted that he doesn’t think in terms of “now or never.” He refuses to dwell on the negative instead of what’s in front of him. But if this fight feels like a pivotal contest, that’s because it is.

"I'm living every moment as it comes," Machida said. "I enjoyed being the champion but it's gone. It's like this conversation. It will be gone in 20 minutes. It's behind, but could happen again."



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