It's a classic tale of East versus West. A non-romantic version of the Karate Kid. When Lyoto Machida and Jon Jones collide this weekend in Toronto for the UFC light heavyweight title, it will be a battle between more than mere men. It's a culture war.
Machida is the traditionalist. When he prepares for his bout, the central figure in his life is his father, Shotokan karate master Yoshizo Machida. The techniques he's mastered are as old as time - or at least as old as the art itself, pieced together from a mishmash of styles by Gichin Funakoshi in the early 1900's.
If Machida represents the past, Jones is a fighter for a new generation. He famously developed his unorthodox style, which includes unusual spinning strikes and cartoonish throws, from watching YouTube videos of judo matches, pro wrestling, and actual fights. The central figure in his public life on a fight week isn't a withered karate sensei. Instead, Jones is followed closely by Malki Kawa, a swaggering sports agent who has mastered the art of social media.
It's a fight that hasn't been easy to prepare for in either man's case. Machida has brought in rangy fighters like fellow Brazilian Glover Texeira to mimic Jones's reach and striking from a distance. But no one can truly simulate the champion's physical prowess and ability to change the fight from a standing battle to a ground fight in a blink of an eye.
Jones has had trouble of his own. While plenty of people in mixed martial arts come from a karate background, most are from the tough guy Kyokushin tradition of Mas Oyama. It's a style built on force - Oyama used to attract students in new towns by punching out bulls and other manly feats of strength - a far cry from Machida's artful and careful defensive movement. It's made the bout a tough one to prepare for, much tougher according to Jones than his last title defense against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
"I guess the biggest difference is Rampage has a style which is easier for sparring partners to mimic," Jones said in a media conference call. "I have... had (training partners) mimic Machida to the best of their ability. But Machida is harder to mimic than Rampage.
"Lyoto's a unique challenge, (but) really there's nothing to fear when you're prepared," the champion continued. "(If) you know yourself and you know your opponent... there's no fear when you do your work and you study."
The pressure surrounding Jones is about more than fighting. It's a constant buzz of meetings, opportunities, and Tweets. Jones is, perhaps, MMA's first modern athlete. He spends as much time marketing and networking as he does training. Like UFC President Dana White, the mainstream is on his mind.
"I think it's important to always just be yourself and always put your best foot forward," Jones said. "As far as my image, this may sound weird but my image - I'm just myself and I don't think of it. It's enough being myself. I'm a pretty solid guy with good intentions.
"And I think a solid character and personality is good for the UFC. We've got a lot of fans that get to know us, there's another audience that get to know us, let mainstream people get to know that we're college educated guys and that we are intelligent athletes and not just guys who show up and beat each other up in the cage."
For Machida, further from the spotlight and pressures of being the champion, the bout represents the opportunity for redemption. He lost the first fight of his career last year against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and dropped his next fight to Jackson as well. After seven years of perfection, a humbled Machida finally knew what losing felt like.
"There's ups and downs at some point," Machida said during a media call with the press. "I learned a lot from the experiences - since winning the title and then losing it and then losing to Rampage and then coming back through a lot. I am a completely different fighter nowadays."
With just days remaining before the fight, the time for training is over. Jones will look for tranquility in the sprawling Canadian metropolis. Machida, too, will look to find a moment of calm before the storm. When the two meet it will be with the weight of enormous expectation on their broad shoulders. What happens when the most modern of fighters meets the most traditional? On Saturday, we'll have our answer.