At the “biggest show in UFC history” this weekend, the show was summarily stolen by a fighter who as recently as last week seemed all but forgotten … and his celebrity buddy who MMA fans now hope they can forget as soon as possible.
Lyoto Machida had been written out of the 205-pound title discussion after back-to-back losses to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson during 2010, but found a way to jump (literally) back into the thick of things against Randy Couture on Saturday at UFC 129.
Fighting his highly-publicized retirement bout, the 47-year-old Couture seemed to know his only chance to defeat Machida was to get a hold of the younger, quicker fighter and work his Greco-Roman wrestling skills. Unfortunately, it was clear almost immediately that wasn’t going to happen. Couture spent the first five minutes of their co-co-co-main event fight vainly chasing Machida around the Octagon. Each time he actually got close enough to lay hands on him, he got plastered with potshots from the notorious counterpuncher. It was like you could smell the knockout coming. Still, nobody expected something like this.
With Couture looking determined to continue to work his game plan in the opening moments of the second, Machida suddenly lashed out with a jumping front kick – a “Karate Kid” style crane kick, if you will – that split Couture’s defense and landed flush on his jaw. Couture, toppled backward to the canvas and looked like he was already out cold before Machida followed with punches until the referee pulled him off.
The most shocking thing was not exactly the kick itself – though it was extremely cool – but how similar it was to Machida teammate Anderson Silva’s front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 in February. Compounding things, both Belfort and Couture fight out of Randy’s Las Vegas –based Xtreme Couture gym and in the wake of their victories both Silva and Machida credited aging action movie star Steven Seagal with helping them devise the kicks.
Seagal, naturally, was in attendance at both events. There he was this weekend at UFC 129, decked out in the same leather jacket and yellow-tinted shooting glasses he wore to 126. There he was after the event, telling reporters how “amazingly proud” he was of Machida and basically acting as if he invented the technique “The Dragon” used to win the fight, if not kicking itself.
Seagal’s motivations are clear. He’s a narcissist, a publicity hound and a first-class hanger-on. For the fighters, it’s a little more difficult to ferret out their intentions here. Obviously, crediting Seagal for anything in MMA is enough to make any self respecting fight journalist throw up his hands in exasperation. Are they humoring this guy? Are they working some kind of bizarre inside joke or extremely slow-developing viral marketing campaign? Do they – shudder – actually respect him?
Unknown, but one thing is clear: Seagal’s status as a lucky charm for fighter from Silva’s and Machida’s Black House gym is probably fully established. As long as this craziness continues, we’re not likely to be rid of him any time soon.