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"Machida Era" now in question

Postfight presser by Andreas Hale
Photos by Ed Mulholland

Saturday night was supposed to be another chapter in what was being called “The Machida Era.”

Twenty-five minutes of a grueling chess match between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s Muy Thai and Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida’s heralded Karate passed and everything changed - except the fact that “The Dragon” would remain undefeated with a unanimous decision victory to retain his light heavyweight title at UFC 104 in Los Angeles.

Despite retaining the title, thoughts of an era where Machida would dominate had disintegrated at the hands of the one they call “Shogun.”

The 16,000+ in attendance cheered mightily when Machida entered the Octagon for a fight that he was heavily favored to dominate. Odds makers had Machida as much as a 6-1 favorite entering the cage. But those very fans showered the Staples Center with boos after the judges scorecards read in favor for the champion (all three had it 48-47 for Machida). Even Machida didn’t look too sold on his victory. As the fight progressed and the challenger pressed forward, the Machida chants morphed to Shogun chants as the pendulum swung in favor of the former PRIDE FC star. The cascade of boos that drowned out Machida’s post-fight interview were a testament to how things can drastically change in one night.

The aura of invincibility that Machida maintained - which amassed a 15-0 record and having never lost a single round entering Saturday‘s clash - was shattered with every kick that “Shogun” smashed into the leg and midsection of Machida. It was the first time anyone had ever seen a battered and bruised Machida. His face was spotted, his midsection was an ugly mass of purple bruises and, for the first time, “The Dragon” looked beatable.

Just about everyone saw Machida lose the fight - except the judges. Press row clamored as many felt that yet another new light heavyweight champion would be crowned. Message boards across the web lit up as fight fans were in shock at what took place. Even the UFC’s president shook his head in disbelief.

“I thought Shogun won the fight,” Dana White stated during the post fight press conference. “I had Shogun winning the fight but, as I’ve said before, you can’t leave the fight in the hands of the judges. Neither guy went after it in the final round. Machida is the champion and the judges gave it to him. I’m sure you are well aware that the athletic commission judges and refs could give a shit what I think.”

The fight was a very technical clash between two styles. Each fighter got their fair share of strikes in but it was never really clear who the winner was. It was just a matter of seeing Machida inflicted with punishment like never before that have everyone up in arms.

“I feel like I was able to use my strategy well for the fight and my corner men were telling me I was winning the fight so that’s why I didn’t press the action so much in the final round,” a mildly disgruntled Rua said. “Everybody that spoke to me after the fight and said I was winning. But what could I do? It was very disappointing.”

Ah, therein lies the problem.

A cardinal sin in boxing and MMA is that you never assume you are winning the fight and you never, ever leave the fight in the hands of the judges. If that is the advice that Rua’s corner gave to him entering the final round, it is the advice that possibly cost him the light heavyweight championship.

“Was it a close fight? Yes,” White said as he was obviously disappointed in the fact that neither fighter “went for it” in the championship rounds. “You see it a lot in boxing; when there’s 30 seconds left you have to go after it and steal the round. Neither one of them did it.”

Although Machida looked a bit out of sync for most of the fight, he still managed to do his fair share of punishment to Rua. A slick counter punch here, a knee to the gut there and ripping kicks to the body kept Rua from putting together anything substantial. In the third round, Machida opened up - possibly out of frustration - with an attack that blitzed Rua with a series of punches and brought the crowd to their feet. But nothing Machida could do would keep Rua away. Nothing he could do would win the hearts of the fans.

“It’s not always that you can please everybody,” a solemn Machida said. “The only thing that I can promise is that in the next fight I’m going to put on a much better performance and hopefully make everyone happy.”

What will make everybody happy is a rematch and White was clear that it would take place sooner than later.

“I think there will be a rematch,” he said. “I talked to them after and they both agreed to it.”

“If that’s Dana’s wish and Lyoto’s wish I’ll fight him anywhere, anytime, wherever, whatever. It’s just a matter of putting the fight together,” Rua said eagerly about fighting Machida again.

“Of course,” Machida said when asked about the possibility of a rematch. “If the UFC wants a rematch then lets have a rematch.”

“You never want the crowd booing the main event,” White continued. “It’s unfortunate. That’s why I truly believe its going to be a good rematch. Both of them will come in not trying to make the same mistakes and leave it in the hands of the judges.”

Maybe next time Shogun’s corner will tell their fighter to press the action. Maybe Machida will enter this fight with a different game plan and once again show why he should be considered one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world of mixed martial arts.

Maybe the UFC has its next great trilogy on its hands.

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Fight Bonuses (each fighter awarded an additional $60,000)

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