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Machida - The Dragon Rises Again

"I knew that one day, I could lose like everyone else. So now I feel like I learned a lot from that loss and it’s taken a lot of pressure off my back.”
It may be strange to hear it put this way, but when it comes to the occupational hazards of being a professional fighter, being knocked out is probably one of the least painful things to go through.

Let’s run it down… Broken nose or jaw: bad. Arm or leg twisted from a submission lock: bad. Getting punched on the button, forgetting the whole ordeal and waking up with maybe a slight headache: not so bad.

So when Mauricio “Shogun” Rua separated Lyoto Machida – literally – from his UFC light heavyweight title in May, the previously unbeaten Brazilian probably wasn’t as beat up physically as he was after going five rounds with Rua seven months earlier.

But that’s not where the pain of a knockout comes from. It’s not physical – it’s mental. It’s knowing that another man had the power to short-circuit you, even if only for a few moments. It’s hearing fans and pundits call you overrated, question your chin, and even question your previous 16 wins, despite those wins coming against the best the fight game has to offer.

This is precisely why some fighters never recover from a knockout loss, fighting as mere shells of their former selves. This is the challenge awaiting Machida this Saturday night against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and the way this UFC 123 main event fight goes may very well dictate how the rest of “The Dragon”s career goes.

Usually, you won’t know until fight night how someone like Machida will react the first time he gets hit or if he’s gun-shy under fire. But a couple signals came pretty quickly in the lead-up to this fight.

First, consider that Machida took the fight. Yes, this is the UFC and not boxing, where a fighter can duck tough competition pretty easily. But I’m sure if he countered the UFC’s offer of Jackson with someone with a little less heat on their fastball, it might have been accepted given the circumstances of being a former world champion coming off a devastating knockout loss. But Machida took the fight against arguably the hardest puncher he has ever faced. Yes, K-1 vets Michael McDonald and Sam Greco are premier strikers, and Rua, Sokoudjou, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans all have KO power, but none of these previous opponents have the overall strength and one punch potency that Jackson packs. So to go right back into the fire against an even harder puncher than the man who just knocked you out is pretty gutsy.

The next sign that Machida has not let the loss affect him mentally came during the UFC 123 media teleconference, when he discussed his defeat, saying, “there was a lot of pressure on my back because most of the fans have this aura of me being the undefeated champion. I knew that one day, I could lose like everyone else. So now I feel like I learned a lot from that loss and it’s taken a lot of pressure off my back.”

Wait…so this could have actually been a good thing for Machida? As strange as it sounds – especially I’m sure in the days following his first defeat – getting that unbeaten burden off your back can allow you the freedom in mind and body to perform at your best. Now the expectations are different and there’s no pressure to fight not to lose as opposed to fighting to win.

Lyoto Machida’s career begins again on Saturday night, and as he has done throughout his life, he will likely look for guidance from his father Yoshizo. The karate master’s advice will probably mirror what he told his son after the first Rua fight, which was to not get caught up in focusing on the past. Focus on the next fight and make sure you are prepared for it.”

And that’s the way you knock out a knockout.

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