UFC 104 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - UFC President Dana White predicted that the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would be the talk of the Sunday sports world after a timeless battle of strikers with vastly contrasting styles.

He was partially correct.

By Michael DiSanto

MACHIDA-SHOGUN TALK DOMINATES THE INDUSTRY

UFC President Dana White predicted that the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship bout between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would be the talk of the Sunday sports world after a timeless battle of strikers with vastly contrasting styles.

He was partially correct.

Machida-Shogun certainly dominated Sunday morning headlines and message boards in cyber land with heated copy, but it wasn’t the combat action that sparked the tremendous volume of debate. It was the judges’ awarding of the fight to the champion by unanimous decision—48-47 across the board.

For the record, I scored the bout 49-46 for Shogun, giving Machida the third round and Shogun the other four. To be honest, it was even a bit of a stretch for me to score the third stanza 10-9 for Machida.

So, I must be outraged by the decision, right? Actually, no.

Shortly after the fight, I spoke with a close friend who works in the industry. The first words out of his mouth were, “I’m not sure why everyone is tripping out over the decision; I had it 48-47 for Machida, just like the judges.” And I’ve had several conversations just like that one over the course of my Sunday afternoon.

The fact of the matter is that Machida-Shogun was a very difficult fight to score. Many of the rounds were extremely close, and I think we all need to accept the fact that judges have difficulty scoring blows to the body and legs versus shots to the head. Remember that MMA is still very much a nascent sport and many of its judges come from boxing, so the quality of judging will continue to evolve as the sport evolves.

Again, that isn’t to say that the judges scored it incorrectly. Reasonable minds can disagree about the scoring of almost every round of Saturday’s main event. I think that the judges were swayed early in the fight by the few quick, explosive strikes (punches and the flying knee) thrown by the champion, even though they did not land with any real effectiveness.

No matter, as resolution appears to be just around the corner. White announced with conviction during the post-fight presser that there would be an immediate rematch. He seemed so committed to the idea that I started to wonder if he would order the pair to don the gloves and face off for a “sudden victory” round right there in the press room. Remember, even though White is the unquestioned MMA czar, he is also its biggest fan, which means he will want bring finality to the controversy just like everyone else.

That is good news because if there has ever been a championship bout that screamed for an immediate rematch, it is this one. Why do I say that when I acknowledge that reasonable minds can disagree about the outcome of the fight? Simple. Whether Shogun did enough to deserve the decision is immaterial, as he is the only fighter that has truly tested Machida inside the Octagon. He is the first man to win a round against the champion in eight trips to the Octagon. And he is certainly the only man who battered and bloodied Machida. Mix that up with the fans’ boisterous disapproval of the result and the UFC has the perfect recipe for a highly anticipated rematch.

When the ballyhooed rematch becomes a reality, I expect Machida to be much more prepared the second time around. Shogun had a brilliant game plan for dealing with the sport’s most elusive fighter. He eschewed his ultra aggressive instincts in favor of an extremely tactical bout that focused on taking away the champion’s explosiveness with savage kicks to the legs and body. He forced the champion to take the lead and punished him for it with quick, well planned counters. Machida will likely be ready for that approach next time around.

Will Shogun employ the same game plan if they square off again? I doubt it. He is smarter than that. My guess is that he will fight off of some of the same keys, though he will mix in more punches and generally fight with more aggression, which may pose even greater problems for the champion.

Whatever the case, when the rematch becomes a reality, I’m going to be front and center to see what transpires.

NO MORE QUESTIONS FOR VELASQUEZ…WELL, ALMOST NONE

Cain Velasquez is the real deal—period.

Yes, I know he only has seven fights under his professional belt, so he remains a relative baby in the sport. Nevertheless, seven professional fights is 40 percent more experience than that of reigning heavyweight kingpin Brock Lesnar, as crazy as that reads.

Yes, I know he was brought along slowly in his first five fights, unlike Lesnar, who was thrown into the deep end without a life preserver after one bout. There is no question, however, that the training wheels are gone after back-to-back fights with Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell.

I also know that while Kongo is a perennial contender and Rothwell is probably the best-kept secret in the heavyweight division, Velasquez has yet to face an A-list opponent with wrestling skills to rival his own. He was able to leverage his wrestling trump card to put on dominant performances against Kongo and Rothwell, but what happens if that trump card is taken away by someone like Lesnar or Carwin?

His striking, while ferocious and technically sound in the gym, according to coaches, training partners and video tape, doesn’t have the same level of commitment to technique and force in the actual fights, not yet at least. He doesn’t quite sit down on his right hand. He doesn’t quite fully leverage his hips on his left hook. And we really haven’t seen him uncork kicks to his full ability.

That is obviously the final piece of the Velasquez puzzle that needs to be investigated before the world officially anoints him as the next great heavyweight. Once Velasquez fully transitions his in-the-gym standup game into a fight, he will begin knocking out opponents on the feet with monotonous regularity—trust me on that one.

BADER CONTINUES TO CLIMB THE RANKS

I don’t know what was more impressive—Ryan Bader’s brutal punching power or Eric Schafer’s chin.

Bader, a former TUF winner, certainly doesn’t fight like a former wrestler anymore. Instead, he stands and bangs like a career slugger, as Schafer found out after eating right hand after right hand in the opening round. The problem was that Schafer never looked like any of Bader’s monstrous right hands really affected him, until one landed just behind the ear in the third round, dropping “Red” and permanently altering the outcome of the fight.

At the end of the day, Bader’s aggression and power punching earned him a well deserved decision. It was a tough, yeoman-like win, with Bader having to deal with exhaustion and the self doubt created when someone eats power punches and smiles in return. That fight was just what the doctor ordered for Bader to continue his development as a fighter. He needed to know that he could gut it out in a tough fight. He needed to know that he could keep his composure when an opponent didn’t wilt under his explosive aggression. He answered both of those questions with an exclamation point.

Schafer didn’t improve his ranking in the division with the loss, but he certainly continued earning the respect of anyone watching for his gutsy effort. I’m sure that earned him another trip to the Octagon soon.

BARRY DEFIES THE ODDS, BUT 205 IS STILL A BETTER HOME

Few people thought that that Pat Barry, who was a full head shorter than Antoni Hardonk, would be able to stand and out-bang his taller foe. Yet, he did just that, scoring the most impressive win of his career at 2:30 of the second round.

The fight was proof that quickness and straight, accurate punching can overcome height and reach deficiencies, though Barry had to eat his share of punches and leg kicks before he was able to find pay dirt.

In an interesting aside, Hardonk, who is one of the true gentlemen in the UFC, refused to touch gloves at the start of the fight. There are a few reasons to do that, principal among them is to eliminate the changes of a sucker punch or a cheap takedown off the touch, both of which are legal, though thoroughly unsportsmanlike. There was little or no chance that Barry would pull a punk move like that, so the only logical explanation is that Hardonk wanted to send a message to Barry.

It didn’t work because Barry repaid the disrespect by cracking him on the chin with a right hand that clearly got Hardonk’s attention, temporarily buckling his knees. I don’t know if that perceived disrespect added to Barry’s intensity for the remainder of the fight, but it certainly didn’t hurt his focus.

The win solidifies Barry’s position among the heavyweight contenders. A question remains, however, whether heavyweight is the best division for him. Barry is only 5’11 (on his tippy toes). Despite the fact that he has fairly long arms for his height, he faces both a height and reach disadvantage—at times an extreme disadvantage--against virtually every UFC heavyweight. His frame looks like it could easily adapt to 205 lbs, which could unlock championship possibilities.

 

 

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