The first light heavyweight title fight between champion Lyoto Machida and challenger Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on October 24, 2009, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, was a five-round affair, which will be remembered far more for what happened after the fight than during.
Rua appeared to win the fight convincingly enough that on media row, reporters had already started writing stories about the upset of the previously unbeaten Machida.
But when the judges came back with the scores, it was 48-47 across the board, all three ruling that Machida had retained the title. The crowd was largely shocked. When it was over, 20 of 21 reporters polled at the fight believed that Rua had won, and a Wrestling Observer website poll on the decision had 80 percent for Rua and only 11 percent for Machida. With the possible exception of a Bas Rutten-Kevin Randleman heavyweight title fight in 1999, it was the most universally decried championship decision in UFC history.
UFC president Dana White, who later said he believed Rua won four of the five rounds, ordered an immediate rematch. Rua landed more blows in every round, with only Round 3 being close. At the end of the fight, Rua had landed roughly double the number of strikes as Machida in a fight that was almost exclusively fought with both on their feet.
One of the three judges of the fight, Nelson "Doc" Hamilton, who has campaigned for judging reform, used this fight as an example. He noted because of his cageside angle on the action and the lack of a television monitor, there were fourth-round blows by Rua that he couldn't see that could have changed the outcome of the fight on his card.
Due to Machida suffering a broken hand in the fight, the rematch didn't take place until the next May, where Rua finished Machida in the first round to become the champion.
Ticket sales were disappointing with only 9,111 paid in an arena that was set up for close to 20,000. White turned the weak sales into a public relations coup, going all over California and Nevada in the weeks prior to the show, using Twitter to announce personal appearances, and personally giving away 3,300 tickets.
The show was lackluster overall, as the No. 2 match on the card, a heavyweight battle where Cain Velasquez finished Ben Rothwell 58 seconds of the second round, was completely one-sided, and was stopped just as Rothwell had gotten to his feet after being pounded on the ground. There were points throughout the fight where it legitimately could have been stopped, but the moment ref Steve Mazzagatti waved it off didn't appear to be one of them.
The show also saw the emergence of Chael Sonnen as a legitimate middleweight title contender, as he won a straight 30-27 decision over Yushin Okami. Sonnen largely outwrestled his opponent the entire fight. The fight was a non-televised undercard match, but the same match a year later could have headlined many shows.
Quoteworthy: "When both fighters are engaged in a striking match, what I always look for is the fighter who is being judicious, picking his spots, being accurate and landing the cleaner strikes which ultimately is what Lyoto did more effectively than Rua. Lyoto made "Shogun" come after him. He determined where the fight took place, which in my opinion, constitutes effective Octagon control. I recognize the fact that Rua did have a few takedown attempts during the course of the fight, however, Lyoto defended them all successfully, which counts as effective grappling in his favor, where as unsuccessful takedown attempts are not scored at all. Therefore, going by that criteria, I believe Lyoto won the fight clearly." – Judge Cecil Peoples defends his decision. RESULTS
Stefan Struve def. Chase Gormley, submission (triangle choke), 4:04 R1
Kyle Kingsbury def. Razak Al-Hassan, split decision
Jorge Rivera def. Rob Kimmons, TKO, 1:53 R3
Chael Sonnen def. Yuhsin Okami, unanimous decision
Pat Barry def. Antoni Hardonk, TKO, 2:30 R2
Ryan Bader def. Eric Schafer, unanimous decision
Anthony Johnson def. Yoshiyuki Yoshida, KO, TKO, 0:41 R1
Joe Stevenson def. Spencer Fisher, submission (strikes) 4:03 R2
Gleison Tibau def. Josh Neer, unanimous decision
Cain Velasquez def. Ben Rothwell, TKO, 0:58 R2
UFC light heavyweight championship: Lyoto Machida def. Mauricio Rua, unanimous decision.(Machida retains title).
- Lyoto Machida
- Mauricio Rua