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Lyoto Machida Blocking Out Pressure for UFC 129 Fight With Randy Couture

Pressure? As far as Lyoto Machida is concerned, it's a case of been there, done that.

After Machida stormed through his first six UFC opponents, never even so much as losing a round, he made quick work of Rashad Evans at UFC 98 to win the light heavyweight title. Joe Rogan declared it the start of "The Machida Era." Talk about pressure.

Machida responded with a lackluster first defense against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua – a fight many, including his boss Dana White, believe he lost. And at UFC 113 last May, Shogun finished what he started at UFC 104, stamping out The Machida Era, handing his fellow Brazilian his first loss. Machida followed that up with what was once unthinkable – a second straight defeat, a split decision loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Anything short of a convincing win over UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture (19-10, 16-7 UFC) at UFC 129 next Saturday, and it will be two years since Machida (16-2, 8-2 UFC) last looked dominant, like a fighter worthy of having an era named for him. Staring down the barrel of three straight losses – the kiss of death for most UFC fighters – Machida said he's used to the pressure by now.

"The pressure still exists, but it's in a different form now," Machida said through translator Ed Soares on a Tuesday call with media members. "As you go in there, you keep winning, after you've had a loss or two, people start to humanize you. Before, you start carrying that pressure, like 'Oh my God, I can't lose, there's too much pressure,' I definitely felt a lot more at ease. I still feel pressure, but it's not the same pressure I felt before."

In particular, Machida's loss to Rua last May taught him that he shouldn't have needed his first loss to hone his game. Despite having one of the most unique styles in the sport, in part thanks to his karate background, Machida said having Rua turn his lights out was a big lesson.

"The biggest thing I learned is you constantly need to be changing and you constantly need to be evolving," Machida said. "At that moment, a lot of people think, 'Oh, if it's working, don't change anything.' But I realize now when you're winning, when you're the champion, that's when you constantly have to be evolving because everybody's gunning for you. Whether you're winning or losing, you've constantly got to be changing."

But against Jackson in November, Machida fought cautiously in the first two rounds, only turning it up in the third. He lost a split decision – a fight even Jackson initially thought Machida had won.

Machida said he fought carefully knowing Jackson could knock him out, and that cost him.

"When I look back at it, one of the things I could've changed, what I did to Quinton in the third round, if I would've initiated that in the first or second, maybe I would have finished the fight," Machida said. "When I came back to fight Quinton, I came back after my first loss, which was a knockout, and I knew Quinton was very explosive and very powerful and I didn't want to take too much risk in the beginning of the fight. I felt I won the first round and I felt the second round could have gone either way. In the third round, Quinton might have tired out a little bit and I wasn't as hesitant to pull the trigger. I realized I should have done that (earlier), and that's what I took from that fight."

Though oddsmakers have made Machida a more than 3-to-1 favorite to beat Couture and snap his two-fight skid, Couture, who says this is a fight he's wanted for two years, has plenty to fight for. He wants to leave the sport on a high note, and he recently announced he plans for this to be his retirement fight – this time for good.

Machida said he takes plenty of respect for one of the sport's founding fathers into the fight.

"It's an honor to fight someone like Randy Couture," Machida said. "I feel like Randy Couture has helped build the history in this sport. He helped build the sport to what it is today. I just feel honored to be able to fight him. Out of respect, I want to give my best to Randy Couture on that night. This plays an important part, not only in history – to be the last guy to fight Randy Couture, but it plays a big part in my career to have a legend like Randy on my resume, that I've fought him."

So even though Machida has had fairly solid pressure on him for quite a while, he's learned to live with it. Pressure to keep winning, pressure to defend a title, pressure to come back after a loss, pressure to come back after a second loss, pressure to fight a legend ... "The Dragon" tries to put on the blinders.

"Every fight and every situation is different, and the pressure always exists," Machida said. "I try to focus on what I've trained. I've had a great training camp. I try to take what I've experienced in the past and learn from it. I'm very well prepared for this fight. I try to block out all of that pressure and focus on going in there. If you let your mind get away from you, 'What if this happens? What if that happens?,' it's just not very good. I just focus on what I want to do in the fight."

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