This Day in MMA History: May 23

By: Ben Duffy
May 23, 2020

As a rare case of an Ultimate Fighting Championship title bout featuring two undefeated fighters, the UFC 98 main event between 13-0-1 champ Rashad Evans and 14-0 challenger Lyoto Machida could have carried the tag line “Something’s Gotta Give.”

In the first defense of the title he had won by ground-and-pounding Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 the previous December, Evans entered the cage as a nearly 2-to-1 underdog. Apparently oddsmakers as well as fans found it difficult to imagine Evans having any better luck than Machida’s previous 14 opponents at decoding the Brazilian karateka’s mystifying striking style. It wasn't just that Machida had beaten all of his UFC opponents; it was that they had scarcely laid a finger on him. A good argument could be made that the greatest peril Machida had faced to date was a not-that-close, Hail Mary triangle choke attempt by Tito Ortiz. There was also the fact that Machida was no stranger to handing people their first loss: He had earned his title shot by knocking out the then 13-0 Thiago Silva, and his list of previously undefeated victims also included a 14-0 Rich Franklin and 4-0 Stephan Bonnar.

Whatever the reasons, the expectations that it was Machida’s fight to win were borne out on that night—May 23, 2009—as Evans was just as perplexed as all the others had been. His twitchy, feint-heavy boxing style, which had been successful in setting previous opponents up for lightning-quick punches and takedowns, was more or less ignored by “The Dragon,” who simply circled in his trademark stance, feet wide and hands held low. The result was a nearly minute-and-a-half stretch at the beginning of the fight in which neither man threw a strike in earnest, and the Las Vegas crowd began to make its displeasure known. Late in the round, Machida finally caught Evans coming in and floored him with a counter left.

The second round was far more action packed, but the action was all one-way. Either bored or frustrated, Evans began coming forward and throwing punches, playing directly in to Machida’s wishes. As Machida calmly lit Evans up with counters, Evans resorted to taunting, which Machida ignored as well. After a knockdown and near-finish, Evans managed to get back to his feet, but Machida trapped him against the fence and threw a set of blistering punches, the last one a left hook that knocked the champion out cold. Evans collapsed backward over his own legs, his battered, unconscious face contorted into a grimace that would become instant and permanent meme material for MMA fans on forums and social media. UFC color commentator Joe Rogan proclaimed that the “Machida era” had dawned, and though it would not last very long, at the moment he could not have been more right.
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