It’s not just Tom Brady seeking to stave off Father Time this weekend.
Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida fights for the first time in his hometown of Belem, Brazil, when he meets Birmingham, Ala.’s Eryk Anders (10-0) atop Saturday’s FS1-televised UFC Fight Night card, which begins at 7 p.m. Pacific.
Young prospects calling out known fighters reaching the tail end of their fighting careers is as big a tradition in combat sports as a checker flag in auto racing, like the hot-shot quarterback coming off the bench to replace the erratic old gunslinger trying to survive another season.
Now, the 39-year-old Machida, known as “Dragon,” has to show if he has enough fire left.
Machida (22-8) boasts a résumé considered one of the most impressive in mixed martial arts. The karate virtuoso has competed against a murderer’s row of stars who helped fuel the rise in popularity of the UFC last decade, including Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — all former UFC champions.
After dropping to middleweight, he fought former champion Chris Weidman and both competitors in the Feb. 10 interim title fight: ex-champion Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero.
Many in the industry did a double take when it was announced that Machida would be facing Anders. Machida says he views the bout as good fortune, not an indictment.
“I feel happy for this opportunity. I grew up in Belem and still have a lot of family and friends here, so this is like a dream come true for me. When I heard that the UFC was having a card in Belem, I did everything I could to get that fight,” he said in a phone interview with The Times.
“I focus on my opponents the same way whether they are a champion or not. After the longest layoff of my career, I felt it was important to get back in the cage as soon as possible to get my fighting rhythm back. I still feel I can do at 185 [pounds] what I did at 205 with the proper adjustments.”
The layoff Machida referenced is the 18-month suspension he received from the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2016 when he admitted taking a performance-enhancing substance banned by the agency.
“I believe in myself. Hard moments can happen with anyone. And these are the situations that you have to overcome. That’s the challenge, so I can keep fighting my fight,” Machida said.
Anders is a rising prospect more famously known for his college football career. He played at the University of Alabama under coach Nick Saban and was the starting linebacker on the 2009 NCAA champion team.
The unbeaten Anders pursued a career in MMA after several failed attempts in the NFL, CFL and Arena Football League. Machida has previously taken down undefeated fighters, handing Rashad Evans, Stephan Bonner and Rich Franklin their first professional losses.
This UFC fight will be Machida’s 23rd, and he takes deep pride in that dependability.
“I have a good relationship with the UFC. We just have to work together for the well-being of everyone. I cannot complain about anything, and I thank them for the opportunities,” Machida said.
Machida comes from a distinguished martial arts family. His father, Yoshizo Machida, was a highly ranked official for the Japan Karate Assn., and his brother, Chinzo, currently competes in Bellator MMA.
Machida has always been one of the most respectful and soft-spoken athletes in the sport, but he doesn’t have an issue with the current crop of fighters who seem to emphasize trash talk.
“It’s not my way to promote a fight, but I respect those that feel that’s the way to promote their fights. Sometimes you have to do that like [Conor] McGregor does, but I prefer to keep a low-profile and do my job in the cage. I prefer to keep doing what I have been doing for my whole career.”