LAS VEGAS – Lyoto Machida is 36 now, and at something of a crossroads in his mixed martial arts career.
He retains a youthful visage and shows no signs of age, either in his body or his fighting style.
On Saturday, though, he'll become only the ninth man in history to fight for a UFC world title at age 36 or older when he challenges Chris Weidman for the middleweight belt in the main event of UFC 175 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
The previous eight fighters to have done so – Maurice Smith, Dan Severn, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Gil Castillo, Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson – combined to go 13-15 in championship bouts when they were 36 or older.
Couture fought half of the UFC title bouts involving a fighter 36 or older, going 8-6. That means that Smith, Severn, Liddell, Castillo, Silva, Sonnen and Henderson only went 5-9 in their title shots.
That's just a .357 winning percentage, which doesn't portend good news for Machida against the 30-year-old Weidman.
Weidman, who will be 30 years, 18 days old on fight night, is the third oldest of the nine reigning UFC champions.
The UFC's champions are relative babies compared to the likes of Severn, Couture and Liddell. Heavyweight Cain Velasquez, at 31, is the oldest. Welterweight champion Johny Hendricks is 30, but is nine months older than Weidman.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones remains the youngest, at 26. Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, featherweight champion Jose Aldo, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson and women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey are all 27.
Newly crowned bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw is 28.
Machida, as expected, shrugs off the concerns about his age, other than to concede he doesn't recover as quickly from workouts.
"I have to train a lot smarter, but that is one of the things I've learned over the years, how to do things better and get the same result," Machida said. "I don't recover as quickly at 36 as I did at 26, but I'm smarter and more intelligent now than I was then. That makes a big difference. I'm more efficient."
He won the light heavyweight title from Rashad Evans in 2009 when he was a week from his 31st birthday.
He successfully defended it once, against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, before losing the belt in a rematch with Rua.
He's been on a mission to regain it ever since and, since dropping to middleweight earlier this year, feels as good as has since he knocked out Evans and began what many expected to become known as "The Machida Era."
Having been to the pinnacle, Machida said he knows what it takes to get there, and is better now for having gone through a year with the belt.
"I'm more experienced as a fighter, obviously, and that makes a difference and will be helpful to me," Machida said. "But as a man, I'm more experienced in life. I have experienced a lot of victories and I've been through some defeats and tough times. But I've learned from all of that and I'm a smarter, better person than I was before."
His competitors have had five years to figure out the elusive, karate-centric style Machida uses. Those five years have robbed him a bit of his quickness, as well.
He's won four of his last five, dropping only a decision to Phil Davis, and he defeated the red-hot Gegard Mousasi in his last outing.
But the loss to Davis, a fighter with wrestling as his base, seems like a bad sign for Machida going against Weidman, also a wrestler but with more striking power than Davis.
Machida is fourth all-time in takedown defense at 83.8 percent, but Weidman is fourth in takedown accuracy at 68.2 percent, according to FightMetric.
The fight could be decided by whether Machida can remain upright and counter Weidman's punches or whether Weidman is able to put Machida on his back.
When a fighter whose game is based on elusiveness is no longer as elusive that often spells trouble. Machida hasn't fundamentally changed his style since his championship days.
But he said the drop to middleweight has made a massive difference. He's been able to add both strength and speed. And because of that, he doesn't view this as a pressure-packed, last-hurrah type of fight.
He's confident he'll win, but he isn't going to burden himself with thoughts of his age.
"I feel the difference at this weight, and it's all to my benefit," Machida said. "I'm much stronger but at the same time, I'm much faster. I felt I was a fast fighter at 205 pounds, but I've gotten even faster and quicker. And now when I'm fighting guys who aren't as big, my strength will be even more of an advantage.
"So I'm not feeling pressure or any sense of urgency. I'm the best I've ever been, in terms of my skills, my understanding of what is going on in the Octagon and my conditioning. I'm confident that if I do what I've trained to do, I can win this title. My age isn't a factor at all, in my opinion."
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