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MONTREAL – Lyoto Machida was one of the last persons to leave the cramped room at the Staples Center in Los Angeles where the post-fight news conference for UFC 104 was held.
Machida had retained the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title earlier that night with a victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
The champion didn't stay to bask in the glow of victory or savor his hard-fought triumph. He had difficulty walking and needed to be helped out of the room. He waited before he left because he is too proud to let just anyone see his condition.
Machida had been hailed as nearly unbeatable in the media prior to that fight and was promoted by the UFC as virtually unhittable. UFC president Dana White touted statistics that showed Machida was hit less frequently than any UFC fighter ever.
It's a very different story this time around, since nearly everyone but judges Nelson Hamilton, Cecil Peoples and Marcos Rosales felt that Rua deserved the victory.
Perhaps it was the shock of seeing his impregnable defense being shredded that led critics to pan Machida's performance.
But Machida, who meets Rua in a rematch for the title on Saturday in the main event of UFC 113 at the Bell Centre, learned a valuable lesson that night. Wear a UFC belt and all of a sudden your opponent fights with a lot more passion and fervor.
"Any time you become a champion, you're walking around with a target on your back," Machida said. "At the last fight, I think (Rua's team) did a really good job of studying my game. They studied it well. They didn't do enough to beat me, but they studied it well and they were effective.
"The experience I gained is going to make me a better fighter. Not that I wasn't prepared last time, but I'm coming with much better tools and a much different strategy this time around."
Rua surprised Machida by blistering him with leg kicks, a strategy Machida never really solved.
Machida had been explosive in stopping Thiago Silva in a title eliminator and then in knocking out Rashad Evans to win the championship, but he wasn't the devastating force against Rua that he had been in his previous fights.
He spent much of the night fending off Rua, who appeared stunned when Bruce Buffer read the decision and declared Machida was still the champion.
Machida, who said he was sore for three or four days after the fight, conceded he was thrown off by Rua's tactics in October.
"What surprised me was the strategy Shogun came in with," Machida said. "It wasn't your typical Shogun strategy. He wasn't as aggressive and moving forward as much.
What he did is he'd kick and cover up, kick and cover up, kick and move away. He wasn't as aggressive as far as staying in the pocket throwing punches like Shogun typically used to do. That surprised me a bit."
A little more than seven months later, the decision is as surprising to Rua as it was the night he heard it. It might make sense to use the same plan he used the first time since Machida didn't really have an answer for it, but Rua believes as Machida does the fight will be different this time around.
Each guy has pored over the tape and has seen what worked, as well as what didn't. Rua had the element of surprise the first time by using his kicks so often, but he won't this time around.
When fighters have never met previously, coaches formulate a plan based upon what they know their fighter can do and upon what they have seen the opponent do against others. Having had the first-hand experience against each other will make it easier to plan, though, the possibility exists that one, or both, may wind up over-thinking things.
"Surely, I think the fight will change and will have some adjustments because I trained some different things and likely he trained some different things," Rua said. "So we'll be two different fighters up in the Octagon."
The result of the first fight unleashed a torrent of anger from fans posting on Internet message boards. Hamilton later admitted his view was partially blocked and said after watching a replay of the fight that he felt Rua had won. Peoples was excoriated by irate fans after defending his decision by making a comment that "leg kicks don't finish fights."
Rua shrugged that off, but said he's watch the tape numerous times himself and can't understand how the judges arrived at the verdict they did.
"Ever after watching the fight, I can not understand how the judges saw it and why they scored it the way they did," Rua said. "But I don't really care now. That is in the past and I have to worry about the rematch and winning on Saturday."
Machida feels much the same way, though one gets the sense that, despite his protestations, he'll come in on Saturday with a lot to prove.
He scored the fight four rounds to one for himself, giving Rua only the final round. He professes not to be concerned with the widely held belief among his peers, White, the media and the fans that Messrs. Hamilton, Peoples and Rosales made a huge blunder.
He wasn't too convincing, though, and blamed much of the public reaction on the way the fight was promoted.
"I respect everyone's opinion, but the reality of it is that I was coming off back-to-back knockouts, it was my first title defense and I think that the way they promoted the fight, saying I only get hit once every two-and-a-half rounds, people saw a much closer fight," Machida said. "They've never seen me in a competitive fight in the UFC where I wasn't dominating the fight entirely. That's why people were saying that.
"There are a lot of different reasons (why the fight went the way it did), but I still believe I won the fight. People can believe what they want. The fact is I won."
Count on the fact that Machida is going to want to make it a lot more obvious on Saturday.
A decisive victory would go a long way toward erasing whatever stain exists on Machida's record. He's 16-0 and, though he wouldn't say so, would like to make No. 17 fairly memorable.
All he would allow is that the fight has significance.
"This fight is very important to me," Machida said. "Very important."
Expect Machida to fight like it's the most important fight he's ever had.
- Lyoto Machida