By Thomas Gerbasi
LAS VEGAS, May 23 – “Karate’s back,” shouted Lyoto Machida, and it’s hard to argue with him now that the words “UFC Light Heavyweight Champion” precede his name after a spectacular second round knockout of Rashad Evans in the main event of UFC 98 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night.
“I tried all my life to be champion and I am very, very happy,” said the new title holder. “Now I want to keep this belt for a long time.”
“It was a good fight,” said a gracious Evans. “He was very difficult to solve, very fast and explosive.”
As expected, the two 205-pound stalwarts searched for openings from a distance as the bout started, feinting to see the reaction coming back from each other. With 90 seconds gone, the two got within striking range, and with two minutes gone, it was Machida who landed the first strike, a kick to the head that knocked Evans off balance. The champion fired back a flurry but missed, and the two calmly went back to their tactical chess match. As the round entered it’s final stages, Machida’s kicks were finding a home, and with under a minute left, one landed, and a follow up left hand dropped Evans. Machida moved in for the finish, but Evans quickly recovered, got back to his feet, and made it to the bell.
The first offense of the second round came from Machida’s feet again, but the Brazilian was rebuffed on his takedown attempt. Moments later, Machida landed a hard punch, but Evans responded with a flurry that put the challenger on the defensive for the first time in the fight. And though they were blocked, Evans started throwing back his kicks in the second half of the stanza. With 1:30 left, Machida hurt Evans with a straight left to the head and dropped him. Evans got up and courageously fired back, trying to get back into the fight, but Machida’s pinpoint accuracy was too much for the New York native to handle, and after a ferocious overhand right followed by a left hook, Evans was sent to the canvas for good, prompting referee Mario Yamasaki to halt the bout at the 3:57 mark and begin a new era in light heavyweight mixed martial arts.
“If you have a dream, go hard, it’s possible,” said Belem, Brazil’s Machida, now 15-0.
Evans falls to 18-1-1
“This is my first time on the other side,” said Evans. “You got to take it how you give it. Maybe next time I’ll do better.”
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