By Thomas Gerbasi
LOS ANGELES, October 25 - As always, Mauricio Rua was classy, not screaming in outrage or snubbing the media following his five round championship battle against Lyoto Machida Saturday night. This, despite the fact that many felt he had the right to be upset after ending up on the short end of a razor-thin 48-47 decision that has provoked debate around internet message boards.
But Rua took the high road.
“In my point of view, I think I won the last three rounds of the fight,” said Rua. “Everybody that has spoke to me after the fight has told me the same, that I won the fight, so what can I do? A fight is a fight and it’s very disappointing.”
On the other side of the post-fight dais, the champion was just as gracious, admitting that while the UFC 104 main event wasn’t his best performance, he will do better in the future.
“I was a hundred percent, but sometimes when you get in there, your strategy doesn’t always work exactly like you planned it to,” said Machida. “I would have liked to perform better, but it happens sometimes. Like I’ve said before, it’s not like you can always please everybody, and the only thing I can promise is that in my next fight I’m gonna put on a much better performance and hopefully make everybody happy.”
Saturday night began with waves of cheers for Machida, yet his mainstream coming out party at STAPLES Center didn’t go exactly as planned, as Rua followed up his April knockout of Chuck Liddell with a performance that finally showed UFC fans what type of terror he was back in his days competing in Japan’s PRIDE organization. And regardless of the final result, this was a fight in which ‘Shogun’ was the big winner, as he showed confidence that appeared to be lacking when he recovered from two knee surgeries following his 2007 UFC debut loss to Forrest Griffin. There were glimpses of this against Liddell, but for 25 minutes against Machida, it was there from start to finish. And what may have been the most impressive aspect of the entire fight for Rua was that he became the first fighter to expose some cracks in Machida’s previously unfathomable style.
“Lyoto’s a very tough fighter and we’ve been watching him and paying attention to his fights and studying his fights for like five months,” explained Rua. “My team and I have been watching a lot of his tapes and talked a lot and we came to a strategy that we thought would work, and I think I was able to implement the strategy well enough. And I’m very happy with my performance, but disheartened with the result.”
All three judges saw the bout 48-47 in favor of Machida, with judges Cecil Peoples and Marcos Rosales both giving the first three rounds to Machida and the last two to Rua, and Nelson Hamilton giving Rua the first and last rounds, and Machida the middle three. This scribe saw it 48-47 for Rua. The fans at STAPLES Center weren’t happy with the decision, and they booed the final verdict.
“There’s three judges, and all three judges had a unanimous decision that I won the fight,” said Machida, who unfortunately was forced to defend his victory. “I wasn’t the one that called the fight – the judges did.”
And Machida is unwavering in his belief that he did enough to become the first UFC light heavyweight champion since Quinton Jackson to successfully defend his belt. He did have to walk through fire to do so though.
“It was a very tough fight, it was a war,” said Machida. “Shogun came very well prepared, but I feel that you really have to beat the champion. He won a couple rounds, but other than that, I believe I won.”
And no matter who you believe deserved the decision, the fact is that this one is in the books, leading to the inevitable question of ‘what’s next?’ For fans, media, and especially the fighters, that answer is obvious.
“Of course I’m thinking about the rematch, all the time since the fight was called,” said Rua. “And if that’s (UFC President) Dana (White)’s wish and Lyoto’s wish, I’ll fight him anywhere, anytime, it’s just a matter of people wanting to put the fight together.”
“Of course. If the UFC decides we should have a rematch, then let’s have a rematch.”
White said at the UFC 104 post-fight press conference that a rematch is definitely next on each fighter’s plate, and while it’s too early to speculate on when Machida-Rua II could take place, it’s not too soon to start talking about what may happen in a return bout.
“I’m gonna go back home, watch the fight, and when we fight again, I’ll have a different strategy and a different plan,” said Machida, who was bloodied on the mouth and also bruised to the body by Rua’s ferocious kicks. That’s not to say Machida didn’t get his licks in as well, as he reddened the challenger’s body with knees and kicks and also got off quick counters upstairs as Rua fired off his flashier leg and body kicks.
Rua said after the bout, “I never felt any of his strikes to get stunned or to be in danger,” and this may mean that his aggressive attack may be amped up in a rematch, and you can almost guarantee this will be the case, considering that a) he doesn’t want to leave it up to the judges again, and b) he admits to taking his foot off the gas in the final round.
“My cornermen were telling me that I was winning the fight, so that’s why I didn’t press the action so much in the final round – it was because I thought I was winning.”
Machida also admits to slowing things down as the championship rounds began, despite having a strong third round that he won on all three judges’ cards.
“It’s just a matter of strategy,” he said. “At that particular time, I thought about saving myself a little bit in the fourth round in case it went to the fifth to explode and have strength in the fifth.”
This will be a fight talked about and broken down for a long time, and not just for the decision (though that will surely get more than its share of ink – both real and of the cyber variety). It was a meeting of the two best 205-pound fighters in the world, and a stylistic clash that answered many questions while raising even more. Machida survived and emerged victorious in the first major gut check of his career, but has his mystique been shattered? Shogun looked to be in 2005 form – will it continue? But we do know this - with 25 minutes in the bank against each other, Machida and Rua know each other better than ever, and will undoubtedly take what they’ve learned into a rematch where neither wants to sit at the post-fight press conference talking about decisions.