In the anticipated light heavyweight showdown between two of Brazil’s best, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua showed that he had an answer to Lyoto Machida’s elusive style. Despite this, by the end of the contest the old adage of “Don’t Leave it in the hands of the judges” would once again prove to be true.
So much of Machida’s style relies on being able to capitalize on his opponents mistakes, but on the night Shogun made few. Rua had announced before the fight that his plan against Machida was to be patient. Whilst many doubted that the usually ‘all-action’ fighter could implement such a strategy, he impressed by sticking with the gameplan throughout – and that wasn’t the only trick he had up his sleeve.
Whilst Machida’s stance, range and movement makes it difficult to land any significant blows to his head, Rua chose to set his sights on his legs and body instead, and one the night it brought him considerable success.
Throughout the fight Rua managed to connect with his kicks, leaving visible red welts on Machida’s legs and torso. Significantly Machida’s standard tactic of quickly moving back and then circling out to avoid punches was not as successful when he had to avoid rangier leg kicks, and he often got caught as he tried to evade the incoming Rua.
Meanwhile another of Machida’s tried and tested strategies, pouncing on his opponent with a lightning fast left cross counter, was also being confounded by Shogun’s leg kicks which seemed to be equally fast, and prevented him from landing cleanly.
It wasn’t all one way traffic – Machida targeted Shogun’s midsection effectively with his knees at times, and was looking to implement his trademark foot sweeps which did knock Shogun off-balance, but didn’t send him to the mat as had often been the case with ‘The Dragon’s’ previous opponents.
Shogun was the fighter causing the more significant damage though and by the closing two rounds Machida’s pace had dropped considerably as the continual leg kicks took their toll and he was sporting a bloodied lip. Despite being in danger of losing a decision Machida seemed unwilling, or unable to change the strategy which had proven successful in his previous 15 fights, continuing to wait for Rua to engage rather than pressing the action.
In the closing seconds of the bout Shogun appeared to be enjoying himself and still had a spring in his step. As the final bell rang he threw his hands up in celebration, while Machida ‘s response was distinctly less enthusiastic.
Personally I scored the fight four rounds to one (Machida picking up round three in my book, though I could also see a case for him taking Round one) in favor of Shogun, but it should be noted that many of the rounds were close – this was not one way traffic.
A Shogun Rua victory did however seem like the only sensible outcome, but as Bruce Buffer announced the winner it was Lyoto Machida who’s hand was raised. All three judges scoring the bout 48-47 in his favor.
It was as controversial a decision as we’ve seen in a UFC title fight for many years and much of the crowd rang out with a chorus of boos, while many of us at home scratched our heads and wondered what the judges had seen that the rest of us had not.
For the time being at least, Shogun will have to make do with a moral victory. An immediate rematch now seems certain with Dana White (who admitted he thought Shogun won the fight) confirming it’s a fight he wants to see, and both fighters verbally agreeing to it in the aftermath of the contest.