Shocker: Lyoto Machida Signs With Bellator

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Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

A longtime UFC mainstay has unexpectedly signed with their closest competitor.

According to a report from ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida has verbally agreed to a multi-fight deal with Bellator MMA. He has not yet officially signed the contract but is expected to do so soon.

“The Dragon” has long been one of the most enigmatic strikers in the Octagon, compiling a 16-8 record in the world’s biggest MMA promotion since debuting at 2007’s UFC 67. He parlayed his dangerous, patient karate style into a UFC title shot in 2009, knocking out then-champion Rashad Evans in one of the most iconic moments in UFC history.

Although Joe Rogan’s proclaimed “Machida Era” came to a somewhat screeching halt when he met Mauricio “Shogun Rua” in his next fight, won one of the most controversial decisions in UFC history, and then lost the belt to Shogun in their rematch via first-round knockout, Machida has secured wins over many of the top names of the UFC’s coming of age era and is a true UFC legend.

Machida eventually moved to middleweight and earned a title shot against former champion Chris Weidman at 2014’s UFC 175, losing a close decision in a back-and-forth battle. He went through a down period against the best 185-pound talent in the world, losing brutal stoppages to Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero before getting suspended for using DHEA.

Machida returned and lost his comeback fight to Derek Brunson, prompting many to call for his retirement, but he rebounded with wins over up-and-coming prospect Eryk Anders and fellow Brazilian legend Vitor Belfort.

When his Bellator signing is complete, Machida will join fellow prominent UFC champions and/or contenders like Rory MacDonald, Gegard Mousasi, Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, and Benson Henderson as fighters who chose to leave the UFC and test the waters. “The Dragon” owns wins over Mousasi and Bader, who are, ironically enough, the Bellator middleweight and light heavyweight champions, making a pre-installed backstory for both fights should Scott Coker choose to go that route.