Toronto - It's perfectly understandable that most of the prefight hype surrounding Randy Couture's upcoming bout with Lyoto Machida at this Saturday's UFC 129 has been focused on Couture's likely retirement.
We're talking about a 14-year veteran here who will certainly go down as one of the greatest mixed martial arts fighters of all time, a guy who's won titles in multiple weight divisions and continued to compete at the highest level into an unthinkably advanced age. The mere fact that many believe -- despite his own protests -- that his latest retirement threat may hinge on whether he wins or loses this bout is a pretty big deal.
On the other hand, we'd be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn't at least make mention that this fight is pretty much a must-win for the other guy, too.
As of just a couple of years ago, Machida was considered something of a force of nature in the light heavyweight division. His incomprehensible style had baffled opponents en route to a 15-0 professional record and when he KOed Rashad Evans in the second round to win the 205-pound title at UFC 98, the UFC itself loudly trumpeted the beginning of "The Machida Era" in the Octagon.
Since then, it's been all downhill. A steep, steep downhill.
Machida underwhelmed in his first title defense against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 104, a fight that ended in a controversial decision win for the champion. In the rematch, he lost much more decisively, falling victim to a knock out just three minutes, 35 seconds into their bout at UFC 113. Worse yet, Machida then lost his next fight to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 123 after a stagnant effort that forced many analysts to start questioning the elusive style that had been so effective through the first five years of his career.
In the hysteria caused by Jon Jones' ascension to the throne earlier this year -- then his bitter feud with Evans -- nobody even mentions Machida as a title contender anymore. Heck, these days he's lucky to be referenced at all in most discussions about the light heavyweight division. At this point, the best adjective to describe Machida's once promising and mysterious career is this one: Ignored.
The growing hypothesis is that the competition has passed him up, unmasked his unorthodox karate offense and made his defensive style at times look like its own worst enemy in a 15-minute fight. If Couture can defeat Machida this weekend, it'll all but confirm those suspicions.
If that happens, it's hard to imagine how he'll possibly be able to bounce back. Machida's status as a former champion (and still maybe a Top 10 guy) would likely save his job with the UFC, but it would seem very unlikely that he'd ever recapture any of his semblance of his former glory.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
Can anyone top the big three of Silva, Jones, and GSP as the best pound-for-pounder fighter?
UFC 129: Press conference
April 28, 2011: Dana White, Georges St-Pierre, Jake Shields, Jose Aldo, Mark Hominick and others on the UFC 129 card talk about their upcoming bouts at Rogers Centre in Toronto.