Defeat can send you one of two ways. It can either send you on a downwards spiral of despair, or it can force you to improve and rise to the top. Unfortunately, I lost two fights in a row in 2011 and, as a result, had to change a lot of things. I changed those things and now, in a way, losses to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz were good for my career, as they forced me to go away, evolve and work on clear weaknesses I had in my game.
Losing two in a row definitely sucked, though. The Jones loss hurt badly at the time, just because it was defeat number one. Obviously, we now know just how good Jon is, and that cushions the blow somewhat. He's gone on to destroy pretty much everybody else at 205 lbs. But the Tito loss was the one that really made me stop and re-evaluate what I was doing with my career. That one really hurt.
I was thinking about that Tito defeat constantly for about a month, and it was a tough setback to shake. In the end, though, I decided to use it as the impetus to change the way I prepared for fights and, to be honest, I haven't looked back since. I handed over the reins in training camp and used a lot of new coaches with a lot of new ideas.
My improvements have been clear to see in my last two fights. I knocked out Jason Brilz inside a minute and a half at UFC 139, and then felt as good as I've ever felt in beating Rampage Jackson at UFC 144. I stuck to the game plan my coaches came up with, and it seemed to work. That then gave me even more confidence and faith in what my coaches were telling me. Now I just follow exactly what they tell me to do, whether in training or in a fight, and have complete belief in what they say. I know I'm going to be in shape and know I'm going to be the best possible version I can be on fight night. As a top fighter, that's all you can really hope for.
I felt comfortable in there against Rampage, simply because I had evolved to the point where I now possessed many more tools than he did. Some opponents may go and watch old tapes of me and assume I'm going to be one-dimensional, an easy touch, but that's no longer the case. Back then I was just a wrestler with an overhand right, but I've added many more skills to my game now. Fights against Rampage and Brilz have shown my stand-up is a lot more technical and smooth than it once was, and I'm now looking for more than just the big right hand. I'm able to set stuff up and think outside the box a bit more.
The losses to Tito and Jones were real turning points for me, but the win over Rampage felt like the start of a new chapter. That marked a new me. Because until you go out there and put it all together, you really just never know how your potential matches up to the best in the world. I was waiting to find out whether I was heading in the right direction, and the way in which I was able to dominate Rampage provided the evidence. After that my confidence went through the roof and I'm now more than happy to face anybody in the light-heavyweight division. In fact, I've already fought some of the best light heavyweights of all-time, so nobody can make me fearful at this stage in my career.
Four of my last five fights have been against current or former champions, and that's pretty good going for somebody considered an up-and-coming prospect not long ago. I'm no longer looking at these guys as fighters I used to watch on television and support – they're now my peers, my rivals. I've fought and beaten heroes of mine and, after a while, you kind of lose sight of the fact you used to look up to some of these fighters.
Machida is no different. He's a guy who has been there and done it already, and somebody I have admired in the past. When he rose to the top of the light heavyweight division and knocked out Rashad Evans to win the belt, he seemed invincible. Nobody could solve the Machida puzzle. At the time I had no idea who would be good enough to suss him out.
However, in the end, somebody did figure him out. And on August 4, it's my turn to do the same.
Follow me on Twitter @RyanBader.
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