I've watched the replay of the Lyoto Machida-Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title four times since seeing it live Saturday at UFC 104 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
I saw it twice on the computer and twice on the 60-inch plasma. I saw it twice with the sound on, listening to the commentary of announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, and I've seen it twice with the sound off.
And each time I've seen it, I've come to the same conclusion: This was an excruciatingly close fight that either man could have won.
Judges Nelson Hamilton, Cecil Peoples and Marcos Rosales gave Machida a unanimous decision, each scoring it 48-47. The difference in the fight is how Rounds 1 and 4 were scored.
Rosales and Peoples gave Machida the first round, while Hamilton gave it to Rua. And they gave the fourth round to Rua, while Hamilton gave that one to Machida. All three agreed that Machida won Rounds 2 and 3 and Rua took Round 5.
I gave Rua Rounds 1, 4 and 5 and Machida Rounds 2 and 3. And while nothing I've seen in watching the replay over and over has convinced me to change my verdict, I'm also perplexed by the outrage over the verdict.
There have been a lot of decisions a lot worse than this one that haven't gotten a 10th of the reaction.
UFC president Dana White, who said he gave Rounds 2 and 3 to Machida and 4 and 5 to Rua, felt Rua won despite saying the first round was too close to call. He wants to make a rematch as quickly as possible, but it's unlikely they'll be able to meet until late winter/early spring.
Machida was given a medical suspension after the fight from the California State Athletic Commission, banning him from having contact in training for 60 days. That means he won't be able to begin training in earnest until Christmas Eve.
He could fight earlier if he is cleared by a doctor, but if not, it makes March look like the most likely month.
If a doctor doesn't waive the 60-day no-contact suspension and Machida took an eight-week training camp starting on Dec. 24, he wouldn't be prepared to fight until late February. The UFC could make Machida-Rua II the main event of the planned show on Feb. 21 in Sydney, Australia, but a more likely scenario is the fight will be pushed back until March or later unless he requests and receives permission from a commission doctor to fight sooner.
I'll get to a mailbag filled with questions and comments on the Machida-Rua bout as well as Brock Lesnar's decision to postpone his heavyweight title fight with Shane Carwin until sometime early next year because of the flu. But before I do, I ask that you follow me on Twitter And with that, let's get to the mailbag:
San Jose, Calif.
Anyone who thinks Shogun "destroyed" Machida is kidding themselves. I accept anyone who thinks Shogun won, as I did, and I have no argument with anyone who believes Machida deserved the decision. In close fights, there is plenty to debate. And this was as close a fight as one can get.
In your column about the fight, you say that "Fans, who are distracted by other things, tend to look away from the action for a split second or two several times in a fight, whether it be to talk to a friend, grab a snack or gesticulate after a big blow." I think you are thinking of sports fans (baseball, for example) and not MMA fans in the seats. I think fans react differently in an MMA fight versus other sporting events. I agree that at maybe a baseball game if there were a big play (like a home run) people would celebrate/gesture without missing much action since there is naturally a pause in the game. However, at least for me, when a big blow lands at a MMA event, people jump to their feet and pay more attention to the fight. In MMA big blows don't end things and are often followed up with fight-ending action, so people tend to focus more to see where things go. Also, you are assuming that everyone in the stands are doing these things at the exact same times and doing them so often within a 25-minute fight that they are missing a lot of things.
Mark, I've covered fights, both boxing and MMA, for well over 20 years. And I can tell you that it's been my experience that fans (and the media, frequently) don't pay attention and don't maintain the same concentration that judges do. And in a fight like Machida-Rua, in which the margin is so narrow, looking away even once in a round could be enough to change the way one sees it.
Your point about Rua not pressing the action in the last two rounds being the fault of his corner is moot because he won the fourth round on two of the three judges' cards and took the fifth on all three. So, he won those rounds anyway. Each round is its own entity and is scored based on the action those rounds and in the last two rounds Rua won. If the fight was scored on the overall fight (like in PRIDE) Shogun would have won the fight. So you can make up some line about it being the corner's fault for misleading Shogun, but the truth is the judges were wrong.
David, I think Rua could have stopped Machida in the fifth round had he pressed the action. He won the round, but he conceded he didn't push because he thought he was ahead. Had he done so, he may have gotten the stoppage. As for scoring the overall fight, here is the problem: That type of system almost always favors the fighter who is performing better at the end. And that's not fair. In the NFL, the games a team wins in September count as much toward its playoff position as do the wins it posts in December. But if we score the overall fight, the fighter at the end is going to get too much of a benefit.
On behalf of every combat sports official in the world, I offer you a heartfelt thank you for your recent article, "Shogun has no one to blame but himself." In my officials clinics, I always express that, "There are only three people in the room who 100 percent of the time are committing 100 percent of their energy and focus to evaluating the relative effectiveness of each fighter according to the established criteria ... (and) everyone else has other agendas." In this case we're talking about three of the most experienced officials in the sport, who delivered a unanimous decision. If there is room for criticism, we should target an ineffective scoring system that forces judges to reward fighters equally for unequal performances.
Cory Schafer, ISKA President
I believe one thing that should be changed with the 10-point must system is that judges should be encouraged, not discouraged, to score more 10-10 rounds and to also score more 10-8 and 10-7 rounds. That is a way of differentiating between a round in which the margin between them is very slim and rounds in which one man clearly is superior.
I just wanted to say I liked your article about the Machida-Rua match. I don't usually agree with a lot of the articles you write, but I believe you were spot on in this one. Rua should be furious with his corner right now. He was not pressing the action enough due to the fact that his corner kept telling him he was winning the fight. What they should have been telling him is "You can win this fight if you keep pressing the action!" I believe it is possible to retain one's title by "playing it safe," but it is not always possible for a challenger to take a title by "playing it safe."
The benefit the champion gets in a fight is that he/she retains the title with a draw. That's it. But had Shogun pushed in the fifth round, I believe he would have stopped Lyoto and won the championship.
De Pere, Wisc.
I saw the video and I will concede he did not look sick. Having said that, I'm not his doctor, nor do I have access to his medical records. His management insists he's been very sick and his training partners have concurred. I asked Dana White and he said he hadn't seen the video. He said Lesnar called him Monday, which is the first he found out about the illness, and said he couldn't make it. White further said Lesnar told him he is not sure if he could fight in January. I asked if Lesnar sounded ill when they spoke and he said no. White said he had breakfast with Lesnar in Las Vegas about a month ago and said Lesnar told him at that time he wanted to fight frequently. Something doesn't add up here and this bears further watching.
- Brock Lesnar