Lyoto Machida Must Learn To Adapt To Remain The Champion

On Saturday night the so called “Machida Era” almost ended before it had fully begun as Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua matched him, and on the majority of people’s scorecards, bested him over five rounds of tense action.

For his previous 15 fights Lyoto Machida had largely had things all his own way thanks to his unique style which we analyzed in depth in an article last week.

Undefeated, never having lost so much as a round in the UFC, and statistically only being hit once every 2 and a half rounds on his route to winning the light heavyweight title, Machida rightly went into his fight with Shogun full of confidence that he would emerge victorious.


What quickly became apparent in the opening rounds of the bout however was that Shogun had found at least a partial answer to the riddle of Machida’s famed ‘elusive’ style.

By targeting his legs and body instead of just head-hunting, he successfully managed to strike the Karate master more times in a single round than most had managed in an entire fight.

At the same time Machida’s most effective weapon – his lightning fast left cross, was being matched by Shogun’s equally fast kicks, whilst his normally effective leg sweeps caused his opponent to stumble, yet not fall.

Whilst he was at no stage overwhelmed by Shogun – the rounds were, more often than not, close – it was clear that things were not going according to plan for Machida.

A couple of days later Machida would reflect on his performance by saying, “Sometimes when you get in there, your strategy doesn’t always work exactly like you planned it too.”

There’s nothing wrong with this admission, it is inevitable that one strategy will not be applicable in all instances.  The most famous text ever written on the subject of strategy –  Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art Of War’ makes an important point that seems relevant at this point.

“Just as water adapts itself to the conformation of the ground, so in war one must be flexible; he must often adapt his tactics to the enemy situation.”  (Sun Tzu – Interpreted by Samuel B. Griffith).

The problem on Saturday night was that, despite knowing that his familiar evasive, counter-striking strategy was not working as planned, Machida persisted with it through all five rounds.  The question that now remains to be asked now is, why?

Was it simply a belief  that the game plan that had served him so well in the past would come good in the end, or – more worryingly, was it that after training and competing using one strategy for his entire career, that he now lack the ability to break free from the mold and adapt his style when the need arises?


Only Machida himself knows for sure.

Some will say that it does not matter – in the end he did enough, in the judges eyes at least, to keep the belt.

Despite that, anyone who saw the surprised and at times bemused look on his face during the fight, his disappointed reaction at the final bell, or the glazed  look in his eyes at the post-fight press conference, knows as well as he does that his style may not be as bullet-proof as it once appeared to be.

The challenge for Machida, who entered mixed martial arts with a hybrid of the Karate style  that could be successful in the modern era of mixed martial arts, must now be to examine the weaknesses in his own game, and find a way to adapt and evolve it to meet the new challenges he faces both now, and in the future.

How successful he is in this regard may well be the deciding factor in how long “The Machida Era” can last.

Article By RossC

Pictures courtesy of


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