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Machida: A puzzle inside an enigma

When Lyoto Machida dropped Rashad Evans on Saturday, he raised the bar for future MMA champs. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

"Himitsu-Bako" is the blanket term for the design and manufacture of Japanese puzzle boxes. Beginning in the 1600s, craftsmen would assemble the boxes so that they could be opened only by the owner of whatever valuables were stored inside. This usually involved finding a "secret" pressure application or performing a series of adjustments in sequence. A box produced by the legendary Yoshio Okiyama demanded 125 different motions before it would relinquish its contents.

You can probably guess where this is going.

Lyoto Machida made history Saturday night by becoming the first mixed martial artist to win a major title by practicing an art perceived as primitive and nearing extinction. He didn't outwrestle, submit or gorilla-press Rashad Evans. Machida feinted, floated out of the way of hammering strikes and applied the principles of Shotokan karate he learned while still in diapers, sending Evans down to think of his sleep number.

Many -- including myself -- were confident Evans' physicality and wrestling ability would at least give Machida a hard time. There had to be a limit to what his brand of karate could handle. Greg Jackson, Evans' trainer, was pegged to test that theory.

But once the fighters engaged, it wasn't even competitive. The man who knocked down heavyweights earlier in his UFC career, who folded up Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin as expertly as a Gap part-timer, barely touched Machida.

No one, it seems, can touch Machida, literally or metaphorically.

You're going to hear a lot of that in the coming weeks: that Machida's style is impregnable, that he's so adept at getting out of the way that he's practically teleporting. He's going to be deified, because that's what sports do when an athlete looks good. Fans like the idea that there's a level -- shades of Jordan, Woods, Gracie, Emelianenko -- that no one else can touch. They're obsessed with it to the point that a 50-year-old Rickson Gracie, who never once was in a competitive fight beyond a bruised Funaki, is still talked about. Imagine how someone competing at an elite level will be received.

This is all well and good. MMA needs its mythological figures to intrigue the media. Sports traditionally reach new levels of respect and popularity when someone special arrives. There may be no better fighter to fill that spot in MMA's third decade than Machida, who speaks respectfully, doesn't grab his crotch unless he's just been cranked there, and speaks convincingly of his love for family and art.

But because MMA is MMA, he will be defeated. Soon. Not too soon -- not by Quinton Jackson, who will stubbornly stand up with Machida -- but soon enough.

Possibility No. 1: Evans in a rematch. Forget trying to pick off Machida on the feet. It's not happening until he gets older and slower. Better strategy: Close in, get his feet over his head and stack him against the fence. Punch until done.

Possibility No. 2: Randy Couture. Laugh all you want, but if Couture gets inside, Machida is going for a ride. Could be Couture's retirement fight, if he fails in another heavyweight title bid -- but only if Machida agrees to do it at heavyweight. (Guy's gonna be 46 soon. Cut him some slack.)

Possibility No. 3: MRSA.

In Machida, the UFC has finally found its first real enigma. Champions have gone on impressive runs in the past, but none has built an unblemished record from the start. (Sorry, Fedor Emelianenko fans: As much as that one loss reeks, it's still there.) Losses chip away at the veneer of a fighter. Fans get restless. They look elsewhere.

But Machida doesn't bend. He operates in the most physically demanding and superficially damaging sport in the world, yet comes out looking like he just finished a step aerobics class. It's preposterous.

Another puzzle-box designer, Hiroshi Iwahara, recently created a design that requires 324 steps to solve. Perhaps one should be gifted to Quinton Jackson. He's going to need the practice.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.