Lyoto Machida wants to fight for a Bellator world title next. He’s indifferent on the division, though. Light heavyweight or middleweight is cool with him. As long as there’s championship gold on the line, Machida will be fine.
Machida took the necessary next step on that path on Friday night, beating Chael Sonnen in a light heavyweight bout at Bellator 222 at Madison Square Garden.
Machida finished Sonnen with a series of strikes to his grounded opponent, and referee Todd Anderson stopped the bout 22 seconds in the second round. Machida had landed a flying knee to the incoming Sonnen (31-17-1) that dropped him and led to the finishing sequence.
“The ref said to me, 'I was trying to save you,'" Sonnen said at the post-fight news conference. "I said, 'What took you so long?'”
It was the fourth straight win for Machida, the last two under the Bellator banner after a long career in the UFC.
“It was my game plan to wait for the right moment," Machida, 41, said. "I couldn’t control the distance right away, but as soon as I found the right time, I threw my knee and I could hit him strong."
Machida (26-8) also connected with a flying knee three minutes into the first round that dropped Sonnen. Sonnen was attempting a right hook and had dropped his head to the left, leaving himself wide open for Machida's knee. Machida rushed in to try to finish the fight then and landed a good series of strikes. Sonnen was able to withstand the attack and finish out the round.
"You have to be tough in this sport," Sonnen said, "and I feel like I used up all my toughness in there."
Sonnen, a lifelong wrestler, said he was surprised that Machida was able to beat him on the ground and control him on top.
"I felt like I just maybe fired my last bullet," Sonnen said. "It's time to move on."
During his in-cage interview after the loss, Sonnen announced his retirement from mixed martial arts.
"I had a hell of a lot of fun," Sonnen, 42, said. "I had a good run. Scott Coker gave me a five-fight deal. He let me honor all five fights, and ladies gentleman, I’m walking out. I appreciate the memories and goodbye."
Sonnen wrote a piece for ESPN earlier this week about how the one promise he had yet to make good on for his late father was winning a championship. Asked what he would say to him now if he could, Sonnen fought through emotion and said, “I’d just tell him I tried."