Fighting for the first time in 18 months felt a little strange for War Machine. The result felt pretty good, though.

It took War Machine (13-4 MMA, 1-0 BFC) just under four minutes to stop Blas Avena (8-7 MMA, 1-1 BFC) on Wednesday night at Bellator 96 in his first fight since November 2011.

Since November 2011, War Machine re-signed with Bellator (after a stint in 2009 that never came to be when he was released before the promotion’s first event after a MySpace rant about President Obama), gone back to jail, got out of jail, got a shot in a Bellator welterweight tournament, lost that shot when he tore his ACL training, healed up and now, finally, he’s back.

War Machine said getting back in the cage after a long layoff didn’t necessarily have ring rust behind it, but there was something he wasn’t expecting.

“That’s the thing with ring rust: It doesn’t exist that much,” War Machine told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “You fight like 40 fights in the gym before you ever come to the real fight. But I won’t lie, I was a little more nervous than usual. I felt a little weird in the beginning of the fight. I watched the fight on TV, and I looked fine, but I guess I felt a little different.”

War Machine may have felt a little different because he was testing out a knee injury in competition for the first time outside of the gym. And it’s an injury that he wonders if he’s seen the last of.

But he also had the pressure of needing to get a win in his Bellator debut – a debut that had a lot of eyeballs on it, given the somewhat controversial nature of his MMA career. Bellator 96 was the start of the promotion’s “Summer Series” and took place at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.

“In the back of my head, I’m scared that one day (the ACL is) going to eventually tear all the way through,” he said. “Just a bunch of little things like that. Obviously pressure. Blas is a tough guy. Everyone here is tough in Bellator, and I want to win. You want to win. We don’t make that much money, and if you lose, you get half as much money. You want that money. You want to eat. That adds to the nerves.”

But in the end, War Machine fought through the nerves and got a first-round TKO stoppage, pinning Avena down and raining down punches on him to end the fight.

And with that hurdle cleared, he now can start thinking about a Bellator welterweight tournament. He was supposed to be in one in the spring before his injury. Now he sets his sights on champion Ben Askren. But he’ll need three tournament wins to get there.

“I want to fight Ben Askren for the belt,” he said. “That’s who I want to fight.”

One thing War Machine knows for sure after all this time is that he’s a fighter and he’s in the right profession.

If he can turn that into a title, all the better. But either way, the alternatives for making money don’t suit him.

“I fight because I can’t have a boss,” he said. “I can’t drive in traffic every day and get up in the morning. I can’t do a 9 to 5. I can’t do a regular job. That’s really why I fight. In a way, that keeps me happy because I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to deal with that. My job is taking care of myself and keeping myself in shape. That definitely keeps me more happy than a regular job.”

For more on Bellator 96, check out the MMA Events section of the site.

MMAjunkie.com Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie.com lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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