Machida still a work in progress


TORONTO -- After dropping two fights in a row, and with his light heavyweight title reign now a distant memory, it could no longer be business as usual for Lyoto Machida. His style -- which was once considered unbeatable -- needed adjusting. Nothing major, but a tuneup.

So Machida went into his latest camp with the goal of beating Randy Couture on Saturday night at UFC 129 and doing so impressively. He accomplished both goals by stopping Couture at 1 minute, 5 seconds of the second round. The finishing touch was a frontal kick to the chin that knocked out one of Couture's teeth.

"We made a few adjustments," Machida told ESPN.com. "We brought in a few trainers and a nutritionist. "We didn't change our style, just worked on changing some things with my karate."

Whatever alterations Machida and his handlers made to his fighting style, it wasn't noticeable against Couture. Machida continues to fight defensively, going on the attack only when an opportunity presents itself for a counterstrike. It worked to perfection against the 47-year-old Couture, but might not lead to a similar outcome against younger, faster fighters.

Despite the subtle tweaks, little was revealed in Machida's performance against Couture in front of 55,000 screaming fans at Rogers Centre. Had Maurico Rua, who took Machida's title -- been in the cage instead of Couture, the fight's outcome would likely have been much different. It's even harder to imagine Machida having his hand raised against current 205-pound titleholder Jon Jones anytime soon.

What this win over Couture does most for Machida (17-2-0) is bring his confidence back.

"I felt pressure when I was undefeated and pressure after I lost," Machida said.

Some of that pressure has been alleviated, but for how long? Machida remains a contender in the light heavyweight division; even beating a retiring Couture has clout. But there needs to be further adjusting to his game. If not, Machida will suffer the same fate he experienced against Rua in March 2010. And let's not forget that being knocked out isn't the only possible consequence of being too defensive. Machida dropped his second pro loss to Quinton Jackson in November 2010. During that fight, Machida landed more strikes, but still failed to impress the judges -- resulting in a split-decision setback.

As for Couture (19-11-0), he vows never to enter the Octagon again competitively.

We've heard this promise from Couture several times in the past. He's promised to retire for good, only to change his mind a few months later. But after what took place at UFC 129, the Hall of Famer isn't likely to renege this time.

Couture was especially moved by the UFC-record crowd of admirers wishing him goodbye.

"The fans have always treated me great," said Couture before being sent to a local hospital, "but to go out on that ovation was very special."

Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.