Lyoto Machida, Chris Weidman surprised by news of title shot at UFC 173
Lyoto Machida expressed an emotion similar to fans when he found out late Thursday night that Vitor Belfort no longer would be fighting Chris Weidman for his middleweight title at UFC 173 in Las Vegas on Memorial Day Weekend.
Machida just had the opportunity to do it sooner than everyone else.
"Of course, I was surprised at first," Machida told Newsday on Friday through interpreter Derek Lee. "I didn't know what was going on. When I found out about the whole thing with the commission and everything, I was surprised but obviously I was very happy. I wanted that title shot and I'm happy to have it."
On Thursday afternoon, the Nevada State Athletic Commission reached a unanimous decision to stop issuing therapeutic use exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy. While many UFC fighters -- and fighters in other promotions -- have received such exemptions in recent years from athletic commissions in multiple states, Belfort seemed to receive more criticism for it than others.
Belfort won his last three fights, all by head-kick knockout and all while using TRT. Those three fights all took place in Brazil, where there is a regulating commission. (At international events with no commission, the UFC conducts its own testing of all fighters on the card.)
Belfort was removed from the UFC 173 fight card Thursday night and said in a statement that he would drop his TRT program and fight without it.
On Friday afternoon, via his Instagram account, Belfort elaborated.
"My body wouldn't have had enough time to acclimate and I wouldn't be able to meet the new requirements of the commission swiftly enough to be licensed for the main bout and permit the UFC sufficient time to promote it," he wrote.
Weidman, a two-time All-American wrestler for both Hofstra and Nassau CC, took the news of the opponent change in stride.
"I found out TRT was banned on Twitter, the next thing I know, I'm getting calls from [UFC president] Dana [White] that I'm fighting Lyoto Machida," Weidman said. "Wow, that's crazy. OK, let's do it."
Those calls raised Weidman's level of excitement for his second UFC middleweight title defense set for May 24 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. That's only 12 weeks away. Time to start thinking about training camp, when to get started, who to bring in for training and all the usual details that go along with preparing for a fight.
"We kind of rang the bell like let's get it going," Weidman said.
Machida, a former light heavyweight champion, dropped to middleweight late last year and won both of his fights. A first-round knockout of Mark Munoz last October and a unanimous decision over Gegard Mousasi two weeks ago put Machida in line for a title shot. It just was expected to be against the Weidman-Belfort winner.
"I feel very good, relating to my strength and my speed and everything," Machida said. "I'm very comfortable in this weight class. Making weight has not been difficult, so I feel like I found my place."
Machida (21-4) presents a more unique challenge than Belfort. Where as Belfort is fast-paced and explosive early on, Machida is more of a counter-striker whose patience has been known to cause opponents to fight more aggressively than they might normally do.
It's a challenge Weidman (11-0) said he is excited to face.
"He's a smart guy and I kind of pride myself on being smart, not in real life, but in the cage," Weidman said. "Going against him is like a chess match, and I love that competitive, 'Who's smarter as a fighter?' type of challenge."
Machida injured his foot against Mousasi but said Friday that he is "close to 100 percent" and expects to resume training in about two weeks.
"I'm always an unpredictable guy, so [Weidman] can always expect to see something different, something new, a new strike, something that I'm gonna throw in there," Machida said. "Weidman has shown that he's a tough guy, he's a true champion. He's shown he can fight the toughest guys out there, but I'm going in there to do my job."