by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
On Saturday night at the WFA’s King of the Streets event, Ryoto “Lyoto” Machida will make his American MMA debut against tough-nosed veteran Vernon “Tiger” White.

A lot of mystique surrounds the undefeated Brazilian fighter after his split from mentor Antonio Inoki earlier this year. Machida has had only one MMA fight in the last year, but he will have the opportunity to introduce himself to a whole new audience on Saturday night.

Lyoto made his MMA debut a little more then three years ago against Pancrase veteran Kengo Watanabe at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Ultimate Crush show. Though he was touted as the next big thing by Antonio Inoki, Lyoto didn’t impress much in this fight, as he was unable to finish Watanabe and won the fight by decision.

He would then go on to beat current UFC star Stephan Bonnar by TKO at the first Jungle Fight event, as he opened a nasty cut that forced a stoppage of the fight. In the fight against Bonnar, Machida was able to show some of his striking skills and looked more comfortable in the ring than he did in his MMA debut.

Although undefeated with a 2-0 record at that time, many MMA fans were still unaware of Inoki’s final protégé, and Inoki sought to change that. Inoki brought in UFC veteran Rich Franklin, who was undefeated in MMA at the time, to take on Lyoto at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003, which took place on December 31, 2003.

Most fans figured that Franklin would have no trouble with Machida and would get the win, returning to the UFC for a possible title shot. Machida surprised everyone and basically dominated the entire fight, not giving Franklin any real chance to get started in the stand-up position. Early in the second round, Machida landed a devastating combination that dropped Franklin to the mat, at which point Machida pounced on Franklin, finishing the fight on the ground with strikes. Many fans took notice of Machida’s impressive win and started to follow the career of the young fighter.

A pair of wins over K-1 veterans Michael McDonald and Sam Greco followed, but Lyoto’s next foray into the spotlight wouldn’t come until early 2005 at the inaugural Hero’s show. Lyoto would take on former UFC Welterweight Champion BJ Penn, who was considered at the time to be one of MMA’s top pound-for-pound fighters. The majority of the fight was fought in the stand-up and neither fighter was able to do much damage to the other, but Lyoto was able to land the cleaner shots and walked away with the decision victory. Although he was the winner of the fight, Lyoto didn’t get much fanfare because of his inability to finish Penn, who was a much smaller fighter than Lyoto.

Machida didn’t fight for the rest of 2005 due to problems with his mentor, Antonio Inoki, who also acted as his manager. After splitting from Inoki, Machida defeated Dimitri Wanderley by TKO on the Jungle Fight 6 card this past April. Machida now looks to make his impact felt on American MMA fans as he takes on Vernon “Tiger” White.

Since his loss to Chuck Liddell in 2004, White has gone 4-1, including a knockout of Pride veteran Alex Steibling at WEC 17, and a TKO win over Jason Guida at WEC 18 this past January. White is a longtime veteran of MMA who has been training in the sport since the early days of Pancrase in 1993, before the UFC even existed.

White is a tough fighter and has only been finished once since 1997, but he seems to be held back by the fact that he is still part of the Lion’s Den. White hasn’t shown much improvement in recent years, in part because the Lion’s Den has not been the most consistent MMA team over the years. For White to really improve at this point of his career, he needs to go to a better team or he will continue to be a journeyman instead of a top star.

Lyoto would seem to be a better striker than White, and Lyoto also has the better ground game, with a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. White’s best shot at winning the fight will be to take Lyoto down and try to control the fight from the top, where he can use ground and pound to frustrate Lyoto. If this fight stays in the stand-up position, I can see Lyoto finishing the fight with strikes. On the ground, if Lyoto can keep constant pressure on White, he could eventually lock on a submission to get the win.

On Saturday night, Lyoto will show American MMA fans why he is the only man to have ever beaten Rich Franklin, and hopefully he will get the respect that he deserves. Besides getting recognition from fans, a win here for Lyoto could potentially set up a fight at the next WFA show against the winner of the Quinton Jackson vs. Matt Lindland fight. The future looks bright for Lyoto Machida, and come Saturday night, American MMA scenes will be able to see why.