Lyoto Machida says there is a real chance his career would be over right now, had he never been hit with last year's 18-month suspension.
The former champion returns on Oct. 28 against Derek Brunson at UFC Fight Night in Brazil. Machida, 39, hasn't fought since 2015. He was suspended in 2016, after admitting he unknowingly took a banned substance.
It might sound cliché for someone in Machida's position to claim this was a blessing in disguise -- but it legitimately may have been. Machida had lost three of four when the suspension came down, and was experiencing fight-related anxiety.
"Some things that happen in life, you can't understand at the time," Machida told ESPN. "But at the end of the day you understand, 'I needed this. I needed this time.'
"If I had kept doing what I was doing, I would probably be retired. You never know, but the way I was dealing with everything -- not just the fights, but the stress -- I couldn't be 100 percent. I couldn't show my skill."
Machida (22-7) says it was anxiety that prompted him to take the banned substance to begin with. He says Brazilian physicians prescribed 7-keto-DHEA as a stress reliever, not knowing it was added to the banned substance list in 2012.
An 18-month suspension at this stage of his career was a tough pill at first, but Machida now recognizes the downward trajectory of his career at the time. He'd been finished in back-to-back fights in 2015 and wasn't handling it well.
"I think there was something wrong in my mind," Machida said. "I just kept doing the same thing, expecting different results.
"Your mind gets tired and you need to find a different goal to achieve again. You can't just do anything for the money or to feed your family. I was at a moment in my life where I was just training and competing because it was normal. Now, I have a goal back. I'm starving to fight. I want to be a champion again."
During the suspension, Machida opened an academy south of Los Angeles, which he operates and teaches classes. He says he never considered asking the UFC for a release to fight elsewhere, as some others have done in similar situations.
He's also no longer taking supplements.
"I'm scared to drink water now," Machida said.
He asked for the toughest opponent available in his return, and the UFC answered with Brunson (17-5), owner of nine career first-round knockouts. With a new handle on his career, Machida is looking forward to showcasing new wrinkles in his game.
"I don't want to create unrealistic expectations in everyone, but what I can say is that I'm bringing something different to this fight," he said.