Machida says he's not a solved puzzle

The last time Lyoto Machida was preparing to fight in Los Angeles, he was a virtually invincible foe -- an undefeated, unorthodox UFC champion widely expected to make good on his first title defense against Mauricio Rua.

Much has changed since UFC 104. When Machida meets Ryan Bader in the co-main event of this weekend’s card, it will have been nearly three years since that first title defense at Staples Center. Machida managed to record a controversial decision win that night, but it’s been a rough road since. He’s 1-3 in his past four fights and has been stopped twice.

The mystique of Machida (17-3), not to mention his belt, might be long gone, but the former champ says his confidence has remained -- even grown.

“I don’t think my confidence has been affected at all; in fact, I think it’s gotten better,” Machida told ESPN.com. “I’m more mature now. I’ve gained more years. As you pass through different experiences, you grow.”

The official verdict on whether Machida will return to greatness is still out.

On one hand, there’s that 1-3 stretch to consider. On the other, he arguably gave Jon Jones the toughest test of his young career at UFC 140 in December and is, curiously, potentially one impressive win on Saturday from earning another title shot.

Critics suggest that the best thing Machida ever had going for him -- his unorthodox style -- has been figured out. Even Jones, before defeating him in that title fight, said in interviews that Machida was a puzzle that had already been solved.

Not surprisingly, the fighter himself believes there’s more to his success than that and points to the nature of his losses as proof.

“If you look at my losses, I’ve never been dominated in a fight,” Machida said. “I lost most of them when one punch came in and put me off balance. I’ve never been taken over in a fight.”

Machida admits he was left a little gun-shy after the knockout loss to Rua in May 2010. He backpedaled for most of the first two rounds in his next fight against Quinton Jackson before coming on hard in the third. Jackson won a split decision.

He’s relatively confident the same thing won’t happen to him this weekend, in a fight UFC president Dana White has said could earn him a title shot should he end things spectacularly. Then again, he says honestly, you never know until the fight starts.

“I’ll have to wait until Saturday to see,” Machida said. “I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m more mature now, and I learned a lot from that fight with 'Rampage' [Jackson]. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat on that.”

Even with his recent struggles, Machida heads the list of potential Jones rematches for many. The fight in December demonstrated that his awkwardness still could give the best fighters in the world trouble. A counter straight left landed by Machida in the first round remains arguably the hardest shot Jones has ever absorbed.

Machida obviously welcomes the opportunity of fighting Jones again but says he believes that any of the success he had against the champion in that first round was completely erased in the second, when Jones opened a cut on his forehead with an elbow, then ended matters with a standing guillotine.

Approaching Jones again would be like approaching things for the first time -- a feeling the once-invincible fighter has become familiar with in his career.

“I think a fight is over when it’s over, and he won that fight. I would have no advantage [in a rematch],” Machida said.

“You learn a lot from every loss, and you accept stuff. That fight is one to remember. I think I lost concentration a little bit in the second round. I came in very confident, and that didn’t help me too much.”