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Nicholas Mercer: Jia Da Ma is the biggest Lyoto Machida fan you might not know

Jia Da (David) Ma (left) poses for a photo with Lyoto Machida moments after Machida fought Eryk Anders in February. - Lyoto Machida Instagram
Jia Da (David) Ma (left) poses for a photo with Lyoto Machida moments after Machida fought Eryk Anders in February. - Lyoto Machida Instagram - Submitted

Brazilian mixed martial artist Lyoto Machida had just gone five grueling rounds with American Eryk Anders in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s February event in Belém in northeast Brazil.

For 25 minutes, the two fighters traded fists, knees and takedowns. Midway through the fight, an Anders elbow opened up a gash between the eyes of Machida in what would become a stunning display of mixed martial arts (MMA). 

When the fight was over, Machida and Anders stood awaiting the result of the scorecards from ring announcer Joe A. Martinez.

With his left hand in the grip of referee Marc Goddard, Machida turned his head to the right and saw a member of the crowd waving to him.

Recognizing the face of Jia Da Ma — David to his friends — Machida offered a smile and thumbs-up.

From the outside, it is an innocuous exchange between a fighter and one of his fans. However, to those who know David, there is a little more to the interaction.

The 28-year-old fight fan who moved to Corner Brook when he was two years old has been to the last eight Machida fights, going back to his bout with Mark Munoz at a UFC Fight Night event in England.

After the Anders fight, a picture of David and the man they call The Dragon popped up on the latter’s Instagram account. It saluted David for his dedication the past 10 years.

Three months after the Anders fight, David is back in Brazil to cheer on a man he considers a friend and mentor.

A couple of months ago, in the course of a text exchange Machida told him that he would have a ticket for him at the event.

After an 18-hour flight from his home in Sydney, Australia, he is in Rio de Janeiro to see Machida meet Vitor Belfort in a middleweight contest between two Brazilian legends.

He is there as the guest of Machida himself. In recent years, the pair have texted back and forth sporadically.

It's nothing special. David will text to check how his family is doing and how things are going.

Prior to the announcement of the Belfort fight and in the midst of a text exchange, Machida told David he was going to be his guest.

“I treat him like any other person,” said David from Rio. “I talk to him the same as anyone else.”

When Machida steps into the Octagon tonight night it will be the 31st fight —  23 of which have been inside the UFC — of his storied career.

In that time, he’s won 23 of those contests and suffered eight losses. At the age of 39, he is far from the Machida that knocked out Rashad Evans in the second round at UFC 98 in 2009.

“I wish I could’ve been there for the Rashad fight,” said David.

The first fight he saw live was Machida’s bout with Cameroonian fighter Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at UFC 79.

David didn’t meet his hero until 2014 when he and couple of friends made the trip to Las Vegas where Machida and Chris Weidman were scheduled to meet.

Weidman ended up pulling out of the fight due to injury which meant it wasn’t guaranteed that Machida would make the trip.

Yet, David found Machida at a music store inside Mandalay Bay doing a signing.

When they met, David showed Machida a picture from Machida’s fight with Gegard Mousasi which was held in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil. It is in the southern portion of the country and isn’t an easy place to get to.

“When (Machida) seen this photo, he was in shock that I went there because it is in the middle of nowhere,” said David. “For someone like me to go there just to watch his fight, he thought it was pretty crazy.”

The relationship was born after that.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all look up to professional athletes no matter their discipline. When we played growing up, we stole their names and tried to copy their style.

Rarely, do we try to emulate them in other parts of our lives.

David’s love of Machida comes from a place of admiration. He was one of the first MMA fighters he was aware of, along with Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz.

He became a fan of the fighter and then became a fan of the person after listening to Machida in interviews and reading about him.

His fandom evolved into a passion.

David studied to be an engineer at Memorial University. After that, he worked in the field with the goal of being able to travel to see Machida.

In recent years, he’s left that job behind because he found he didn’t love it. It was a means to an end.

He looked to Machida for inspiration. Machida fights because he loves it. It provides for his family and is very much his job, but at the end of the day, he loves competing.

David felt that and made a change.

“(Machida) has guided me a lot through life,” he said. “I’ve dedicated my life to him. I respect him as a human being and watching him fight is how I pay him my respect.

“I believe he changed my life for the better.”

David works for a temporary job agency in Australia now and does whatever job they have for him.

Fight week isn’t easy for David. Flying around the world to see your favourite fighter compete should be fun, but it isn’t.

David gets nervous in the week leading up to the fight. He sees Machida as a friend and doesn’t want harm to come from him.

He likens it to seeing one of your best friends or a family member having to fight for their family and the damage they take because of it.

“It’s not a good feeling,” said David. “I see parents and they go through such crazy emotions before the fight, during the fight and after the fight.

“I know him enough that I care for the guy ... I go through so many emotions when he fights. I’d be much less nervous if I was fighting. I do care for him.”

At 39 and with close to three dozen professional contests under his belt, Machida can no doubt see the finish line to his career.

With a reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion and more wins than losses, it’d be fair to consider it a successful journey for the Hall of Fame talent.

“While he is doing his job, I’d still like to support him,” he said. “When it is all and done for, I’ll have more time to myself.”

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