The first title fight in Canada of 2021 will be between the big boys.
Vancouver, B.C.’s Caio Machado (3-1-1) will defend his BFL heavyweight title for the first time on Friday night against Lethbridge, Alta.’s Lee Mein (11-14) at BFL 66 in Vancouver.
The event marks the promotion’s exclusive debut on the popular streaming service UFC Fight Pass.
The fight itself is a classic matchup of a battle-hardened veteran versus a young lion, and the two men, despite being at polar opposite stations in their careers, share a surprising amount of parallels.
Neither has competed since 2019, for example, and despite the contrasts in age, record, and aspirations in the sport, each ultimately plies his trade with a student’s mindset, viewing competition as its own prize.
Machado sees big things in his future
Machado, 26, will look to continue the momentum of procuring the title in 2019 with a successful first defence against his elder challenger, Mein.
And while Machado does not discount his opponent’s considerable experience edge, he said he believes the most meaningful advantages in this matchup will be firmly on his side of the cage.
“From what I see, Lee is a tough fight. He’s a strong guy, but he’s kind of an old school, square boxer,” said Machado in an interview with MMA Empire.
“I think I’m way more versatile with my muay thai, my reach is bigger, and my cardio is a big advantage. I also feel like I’m stronger than him. Definitely, his experience is the only thing that can work against me, but I’ll be ready for it.”
After completing high school in his native city of Presidente Prudente, Brazil, Machado entered law school fully expecting it to be his chief path through life, but, as with his opponent, it soon became clear that the sport of mixed martial arts had other plans for his future.
“During my time in Brazil I always trained, I was always being active. But I was in school when I was there, and in my third year I dropped out because I felt it wasn’t for me,” said Machado.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going to work or what I was going to do, but with time I was spending most of my hours in the gym training and competing.”
Machado has been living in Canada since Sept. 2015, and said he began training at the Vancouver-based FKP MMA gym early the following year for simple health reasons.
“At first, I didn’t move here for fighting. I wasn’t fighting professionally. I had a couple muay thai fights, but I wasn’t looking at it as a career,” said Machado.
“I came here just to be able to work and study, and see my options. I got into a program on business communications, and I was training at FKP and helping other fighters. And my coach Chris Franco said, ‘hey, you have talent,’ and he offered me an opportunity to fight.”
While the Brazilian shares his Canadian counterpart’s focus on the present and views his growth fight by fight, he is not afraid to make his aspirations known.
“The first fight, the goal was to get the experience, to see how I felt, and live that experience,” said Machado.
“But since I’ve gotten more serious about fighting and decided to take it on as a career, the goal has always been to get to the UFC, to Bellator, to One (Championship). I’m always focused on the now, the next best challenge in that fight, but back of my head, the goal is to make the big leagues.”
The significance of BFL airing for the first time exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, the premiere streaming platform for the largest MMA promotion on the globe, does not escape Machado, and he said the UFC is ultimately where he hopes to land.
“The UFC is where there is the most exposure and the biggest competition,” said Machado.
“I’m a really competitive guy and I want to work to be the best. Right now, in my division, they’re in the UFC and that’s where I focus. But of course, if I get the opportunity to go to Bellator or One, that would be an awesome step for my career.”
Mein eager to test mettle against younger threat
The 53-year-old former kickboxer Mein wears many hats in the fight game, and has for decades. Now a veteran of 25 professional MMA bouts, he is also the owner of Canadian Martial Arts Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., as well as founder and promoter of Rumble in the Cage.
Mein says his foray into martial arts came as a practical concern in the beginning, as he was working in security and wanted to know what was effective in real time against a resisting opponent.
“Originally, I started training Kenpo Karate with my brother and I just really loved it,” said Mein in an interview with MMA Empire.
“So after getting into, you know, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, MMA was the natural progression for finding out what works best. Eventually, I got into teaching, and it just progressed from there. I wanted to share what I was learning with other people, and learn myself.”
In addition to his own MMA career goals, Mein holds a strong passion for growing the sport and providing a platform to do so.
“I chose to develop martial arts here in Lethbridge and build a program because it’s what I love doing. Finding like-minded people that love training martial arts, and those that want to challenge themselves in the fight scene,” said Mein.
“I started promoting Rumble in the Cage events to get people that chance to fight and compete. You know, knock off those bucket list things in their life.”
In addition to his aforementioned roles, Mein is also the father of Bellator fighter Jordan Mein (31-13), and said he knows through experiencing the various stages of both their careers how fast a young fighter, such as his opponent, can grow and develop.
“You know, at a young age, at 16, he (Jordan) was fighting pro against adults—grown men,” said Mein.
“So, when I’m fighting someone like Mr. Machado, who is 26, I don’t discredit that because I know how good my son was at 16. They may not have a ton of experience in say MMA fights, but if they have spent years of training against high-level guys in the gym, that means a lot.”
Even with double digits professional experience, Mein said he is always mindful of the sport’s matchless unpredictability and, therefore, dangers.
“I don’t take anyone lightly, no matter who they are, what their skills are. It’s MMA, for one. Anything can happen: one punch, one wrong move and you’re caught in a submission, or you get clipped by a kick,” said Mein.
“You can be totally crushing a guy and still get caught and finished, right? That’s why it’s so intriguing to fight MMA, watch MMA, because you never know what’s going to happen. So seeing someone who’s young and passionate about martial arts, like Machado is, makes it that much more challenging.”
Mein said most fighters his age wouldn’t be targeting bouts with hungry up-and-comers, but said it is the challenge the new generation presents that scratches his competitive itch.
Mein said winning the BFL heavyweight title will be an achievement worth celebrating, but ultimately he just wants to compete.
“You know, title on the line, no title on the line, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Mein said.
“But fighting a guy who is the champ, to me that’s added drive because the challenge is real. They’re not spoon-feeding you somebody just to win a title or win a fight; you know you’re getting a guy who’s beaten good guys to be the champion. It’s exciting. It’s going to be on UFC Fight Pass, which is great because lots of people have that channel, millions around the world. So just more exposure for what I’m trying to do, for my skillsets, and to entertain people.”
Mein is not disabused with notions of fighting for a major promotion like the UFC, but is happy where he is, competing in the sport for the love and thrill of it.
“UFC’s not going to call me, with my age and record. They’re not going to call me no matter if I win the title or not, I’m sure,” said Mein.
“I fight for the fun of fighting. You know, I’m not driven for the titles and the career. I had a career as a professional fighter. I’m not going to make it to the top and win any big organization title, but it’s just fun to be in the mix and bang with the young guys, and get challenged that way. And you know, let people know that you’re never too old to do stuff. You’ve got to train smart and you’ve got to do it right, but you can still do it.”
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