UFC President Dana White is fond of saying there is a very small window for fighters to make their mark in MMA. For all intents and purposes, he's right. The sport is a fast lane, full of moving parts and there is nothing more difficult than a sustained run at the top.
No one knows this better than Lyoto Machida.
The Karate master at one time was all the rage, blowing through 16 consecutive opponents. The list of victims was as impressive as it was long. Names like B.J. Penn, Rich Franklin, Thiago Silva, Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans, all of whom "The Dragon" defeated decisively, helped to grow his legend.
But with that sort of continued success comes the pressure to sustain it.
Machida was at the top of his game in the early months of 2009, winning "Knockout of the Night" in dominant victories over the previously mentioned Silva and Evans, the latter of which earned him the light heavyweight title.
Color commentator Joe Rogan was quick to rush in "The Machida Era," believing just as strongly as everyone else that there wasn't anyone that could figure out the puzzling game the Brazilian brought to the Octagon.
But there sure as hell was.
Two consecutive match-ups against Mauricio Rua and all the weaknesses in Machida's game were made glaringly evident. As the saying goes -- if you haven't lost in mixed martial arts you just haven't fought the right opponent yet.
"Shogun" was the man to finally take the Black House product out, mopping the floor with him at UFC 113. Months later, albeit in less convincing fashion, Quinton Jackson added another loss to Machida's record, taking a split decision Auburn Hills, Michigan.
When it rains, it pours.
This brings us to today. After reaching the top of the 205-pound mountain, and looking every bit the world-beater he once was, the former champion may be on the verge of losing his job.
That is, of course, if he loses his next bout, a match-up against the one and only Randy Couture.
But now that there is no title looming over his head, nor is it a number one contender fight, Machida feels relaxed and once again ready to dominate the landscape he once ruled over (via Tapology):
"He is going to impose his game, but I will counter. I will be very prepared. There is no pressure on me for the title. I want to be involved in great fights and make my way back to the top. This is a fast moving sport. I was at the top of the division, and now I have to work hard to get back to the top. I do believe my fans have always been there supporting me and they will continue. MMA fans are very passionate; they care a lot about the sport and the fighters, so it's great to see our fans. The time is right now and it is going to happen. I am honored and looking forward to fighting Couture. He is a legend in our sport, he has done a lot to popularize MMA, especially with the American fans, and has been involved in historic fights. I believe this fight won't by any different."
If Machida truly does want to be in great fights, he's paired off with the perfect man to give him one. "The Natural," who recently made claims that this bout just may be his last, has made an entire career out of being involved in mega-fights.
His 15 career title fights should provide enough evidence of that.
And with April 30 in Toronto at UFC 129 possibly representing "Captain America's" last stand, it's safe to say all involved will be at the top of their game. Fireworks just might be coming early this year, folks.
Get your popcorn ready.