From his debut win against Sam Hoger at UFC 67 in Feb. 2007 to his spectacular knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 224 in May 2018, Lyoto Machida called the Ultimate Fighting Championship his fighting home.
Despite the Belfort bout being the last fight on his UFC contract, Machida wasn’t looking to go anywhere. He was making a great living, providing for his family and receiving high-caliber fights. After all, this is a man who knocked Rashad Evans out at UFC 98 to capture the light heavyweight championship back in May 2009. A man whose history with the company was well-documented. So, no need to leave, right?
Well, something peculiar occurred in the aftermath of UFC 224 — the company never sought to renew his contract. The exclusive window to work out a new deal had lapsed and Machida was a free agent.
But he didn’t remain on the open market long, as Bellator MMA came knocking on his door in June. While the UFC matched the offer, Machida went with the Viacom-owned promotion because it showed genuine interest.
“As soon as I finished my fight with Vitor Belfort, my contract was over and the UFC had let my contract run out and they didn’t say anything,” Machida told Sporting News. “I didn’t know if they wanted to keep me to fight in the UFC or not. So, I was looking for a new organization. (Bellator executive) Mike Kogan had some contacts because my brother Chinzo fought a couple times in Bellator and always treated me so good.”
Machida added: “Then Mike Kogan came up to me and asked if I would like to fight in Bellator. I said, ‘Of course, I’m not sure if the UFC still wants me to fight there because they didn’t say anything to me after Belfort (fight).’ Then, Bellator made an offer that I couldn’t refuse and that’s it. I couldn’t stay in the UFC, anymore. The UFC matched everything, but Bellator came first. Without a contract, I was free to negotiate with anyone.”
Many were shocked when Machida signed with Bellator because of how long he had been in the UFC. While he loved his time in the UFC, the differences between the companies are night and day, according to Machida.
“I believe that the UFC became more corporate,” he explained. “The UFC is so huge nowadays. They grew a lot. In Bellator, you can still call the higher-ups. They call directly to the fighters. I had a good relationship with the UFC as well, but in Bellator, you can talk whenever you want with (Bellator president) Scott Coker and Mike Kogan. They treat you so well. Even though I haven’t fought for them yet, it feels like I’m at home. For me, those relationships are so important that we are building. I believe that’s the key to good business.”
Now that he is comfortable in his new surroundings, Machida will make his Bellator debut at 185 pounds against former middleweight titleholder Rafael Carvalho on Dec. 15, when the promotion goes to Hawaii for the first time.
“The Dragon” can’t hide his excitement.
“I don’t have any words to describe it,” Machida excitedly said. “I’m so excited to step inside the Bellator cage. I’ve never stopped training since my last fight. I was so happy Thursday to sign the contract. For me, it was a dream come true.”