The Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight title hasn't been successfully defended since September 2007. But shortly after Lyoto Machida took the belt from Rashad Evans in a scintillating performance at UFC 98 on May 23, a sense began to develop that the gifted karate exponent is poised to grind title turnovers to a halt.
Though the Machida vs. Evans fight marked the first time two undefeated fighters clashed for a UFC belt, the principals hardly seemed on the same level. Evans only connected on seven of 54 strikes, according to CompuStrike, while Machida set up punches with kicks expertly, at one point swatting aside Evans’ right hand and simultaneously landing a crushing straight punch.
Machida moved in for the kill in round two, unleashing a punch combination punctuated by a swift left hook that put Evans out cold for the first time in his MMA career.
The increasingly aggressive Shotokan karate black belt was jubilant following the win, taking the microphone from Joe Rogan to hold court about dreams coming true. Machida, a fighter the general public had been ambivalent toward for most of his UFC run, truly came off as a star in the fight -- loud "Machida" chants rung out from the fans on hand at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Machida came into the fight having been prominently highlighted on a "Countdown" Spike TV special that drew 768,000 viewers, the second highest in the series' history, according to MMAPayout.com. The profile heavily played up his roots in Shotokan, and by the end of the weekend "Machida Karate" was settling into the MMA lexicon.
Machida's manager, Ed Soares, told the Sherdog Radio Network's "Beatdown" show that Machida has trademarked the term "MMA Karate" (short for "Machida Martial Arts Karate") as a way to brand the unique skill set he brings to the table.
Machida earned a $60,000 “Knockout of the Night” bonus for his UFC 98 win on top of his $140,000 purse. The win shot Machida from No. 4. to No. 1 in Sherdog.com’s 205-pound rankings and to No. 4 on the pound-for-pound rankings.
Talk quickly turned to how the rest of the UFC's marquee division would fare against Machida. UFC President Dana White said in a post-fight press conference that Quinton Jackson would get the next shot at a title that hasn't been successfully defended in almost two years. However, the company announced later in the week that Jackson will coach opposite Rashad Evans on season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which begins a 13-week taping regimen on June 1 and will begin airing in mid-September.
Jackson told Yahoo Sports that he requested to coach against Evans instead of Machida. There was widespread speculation that Mauricio 'Shogun" Rua, coming off a victory over Chuck Liddell, would be the first to challenge Machida. Rua agreed to the fight this week, according to the Brazilian website SuperLutas. Soares told “Beatdown” that Machida will fight again by the end of the year, likely in October or November.
In addition to Machida, bonus payouts went to grudge-match principals Matt Hughes and Matt Serra for having the “Fight of the Night.” Hughes was the night's highest earner, taking home $260,000 in disclosed pay for his unanimous decision win. Hughes overcame headbutt-induced wobbliness early in round one to wrestle his way to victory.
Hughes, who some speculated would retire after the fight, said he intends to pursue the division's best, telling Joe Rogan that he'd like to fight near his Illinois hometown one more time. Hughes' UFC contract is up, but he pledged not to entertain offers from other promotions.
UFC 98 drew 12,606 fans to the MGM Grand, which translated into a $3.4 million gate. The gate was about the same as the company's last event in the building, UFC 92 in December, although there were some 2,000 less people in the building.
In other notable outcomes, Frankie Edgar took a big leap toward lightweight contention by outboxing former dominant champion Sean Sherk en route to a unanimous decision. Edgar was able to shut down sparse takedown attempts by Sherk and use his reach effectively, a performance White said "blew him away."
Sherk, despondent over the loss and looking to blow off steam, ran out of the MGM Grand Arena in his shorts and gloves (no shoes) into the streets of Las Vegas, but returned before the show concluded. Sherk told “Beatdown” that he was suspended for 45 days by the athletic commission for the move, but the commission told Sherdog.com the suspension was tied to damage he sustained in the fight, not the post-fight sprint.
Elsewhere, Drew McFedries snapped a two-fight losing streak by blitzing Xavier Foupa-Pokam in the first round with punches for the TKO, Chael Sonnen kept Dan Miller pinned beneath his top control to secure a victory and Brock Larson picked up a $60,000 submission bonus for tapping Mike Pyle with an arm triangle. Pyle replaced Chris Wilson at the last minute due to a medical issue that Wilson declined to specify in interviews.
Referee Yves Lavigne earned the most boos of the evening, as his stoppage of the Kyle Bradley-Phillipe Nover fight in favor of Bradley left a profound dissatisfaction throughout the arena. Also picking up wins at UFC 98 were Krzysztof Soszynski, Tim Hague, George Roop and Yoshiyuki Yoshida.