After being defeating former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho in his Bellator debut in December, Lyoto Machida isn’t waste anytime waiting around.
The ex-UFC champion has agreed to move back up to light heavyweight to face Chael Sonnen in New York on June 14, and he is confident that a win at Madison Square Garden will guarantee him a shot at the 205-pound championship against Ryan Bader.
Machida, who was next in line for the middleweight championship after defeating Carvalho in his debut, opted to move up to 205 pounds to stay active after a championship bout between Gegard Mousasi and Rafael Lovato Jr. was postponed due to injury.
With Mousasi and Lovato rebooked for June 22 in London, “The Dragon” asked for another fight.
”When I signed with Bellator, I told them I wanted to fight at both weight classes, 185 and 205,” Machida told MMA Fighting. “I wanted to stay active and fight at least three times a year.”
“The Dragon” faced some of the best mixed martial artists in the world during his 11-year run in the UFC, defeating the likes of Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, and Tito Ortiz. Machida also beat Mousasi and Bader, who currently hold Bellator titles at middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight.
”I have a history with both Mousasi and Ryan Bader and we’ll see what’s best, not only for me, but for the promotion and fans, what they want the most,” Machida said. “I’m willing to fight in both weight classes. My goal is to fight big fights, fight for the belt. I want to give them both rematches, but everything is matter of timing.
“I want the belt,” he continued. “I really believe I can put on great fights in both weight classes. I feel great in this division, but it’s about preparation. If I’m going to fight Mousasi, I have to cut weight, so it’s a different preparation to feel good on fight night, and to fight Ryan Bader at 205 it’s a different dynamic, like I’m doing now to fight Chael Sonnen. I want to fight both of them.”
Bellator NYC will mark the return of the Brazilian to light heavyweight for the first time since 2013, when he lost a decision to Phil Davis at UFC 163 in Rio de Janeiro. Machida entered a cage 10 times as a middleweight since then, including wins over Mousasi, Mark Munoz, Eryk Anders, and Vitor Belfort.
The karate specialist currently weighs around 208 pounds, but plans on gaining some weight during his training camp to face Sonnen in New York.
”It changes a lot. It’s different,” Machida said of fighting at light heavyweight. “Each weight class has its specific strength and speed. I had an advantage in terms of speed and explosion at 205, and I was kind of at the same level of everyone else at 185.
”I felt stronger early in my camps at 185, I could feel it in grappling exchanges and with my strikes, but as you start cutting weight you lose a bit of your power and efficiency. My style depends on connecting the strike with precision and power, so I have to be ready and strong for that. I think I have all that at 205. I love fighting at 185, but I do feel that big difference.”
In terms of a clash of fighting styles, Machida believes the outcome of his fight with Sonnen depends on who can impose his will first.
”It’s a matchup that can favor either side, because Chael Sonnen is a great wrestler, has his history in wrestling and MMA, and there’s also my side,” Machida said. “We’ll see what happens, if we’ll stay on the feet or on the ground and who has the advantage. I’m getting ready for surprises and putting on a great fight. This fight should’ve happened in the past but never did, and now it’s happening in a big capital like New York.
”Chael Sonnen likes to hold you down and control the fight, like he did to a striker like Anderson (Silva). He likes to stay on top and score points, but he doesn’t go for the finish. I always try to avoid that game that Chael Sonnen does to try to finish the fight before the final bell.”