MMA legend Machida finds fresh start in Winter Garden Fl.

Coming off two consecutive losses, Lyoto Machida needed a fresh start. The mixed martial arts legend said he wanted to escape his routine, get close to nature … maybe find a little magic.

And where better to find magic than Central Florida?

Last fall, the Bellator MMA light-heavyweight moved his family and his entire training operation from California to Winter Garden, where he has built an academy in his garage and recruited some top fighters to help him train.

He’ll get the first test of his new regimen this Friday night, when he takes on Ryan Bader in the first round of Bellator’s Light Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament in Uncasville, Conn. The main card airs on Showtime beginning at 9 p.m.

Machida took a decision loss against Phil Davis last September, and knew something had to give if he was going to stay at a top level.

“I had been living in California for the last nine years, and I really just needed to change things up a little bit,” said Machida, 42. “I know that I have a lot left to give to this sport and I just felt that it was necessary to force myself out of my comfort zone and refocus.”

If you’re leaving your comfort zone, you probably couldn’t go further than a move from Los Angeles County to a tranquil house on a west Orange County lake. But Machida went all in on the move, bringing his family — Machida is married with two children, Taiyo and Kaito — and equipment to start fresh.

“I’ve always thrived in nature and out in the wild, and we’re definitely surrounded by plenty of it with a lake right on the property,” Machida said. “A lot of snakes and alligators, but it is nice to have all of this surrounding me. I thrive in this environment.”

Machida’s camp roster feels almost like an all-star team, with top UFC contender Glover Teixeira, Glory kickboxing champion Alex Pereira, Machida’s brother Chinzo and his longtime coach, Mano Santana. He said he’s also gotten support from Fusion X-Cel Performance gym in Ocoee, where he spars with UFC veteran Ronaldo (Jacaré) Souza, among others.

Machida’s battle with Bader is a rematch — they fought in UFC in 2012, with Machida scoring a highlight-reel knockout. Machida might take some lessons from that fight, but since Bader went on to become a two-weight champion, this bout may be a tougher test. Bader remains the No. 1 contender for the light-heavyweight belt, while Machida is slotted No. 4 as they enter the eight-man tournament.

“I’m very excited to be competing in this Grand Prix with so many other top fighters, but my focus is on Ryan Bader right now,” Machida said. “Ryan has evolved a great deal since (we last fought), but I have evolved as well.”

In between training sessions, Machida said he has taken time to enjoy his new home city and is happy with his decision to move here.

“We love it” in Winter Garden, Machida said. “The town has been very welcoming to all of us. We are building many great, new relationships here and it has all been very exciting and a welcome change for me.”

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