Josh Gross
Sunday October 25th, 2009

Live blog from the UFC 104 in Los Angeles: 9:51 p.m.: At the the very least Shogun exposed Machida as beatable. Forget attacks to the head. You'll get countered and killed. Go after the man's legs to retard his brilliant footwork. Go after his body to slow him, period. Rua, really, could not have done much more. Even in defeat he must feel vindicated. He was the best light heavyweight in MMA four years ago, and he very well could be that man again today. The fact that three judges appointed by the California State Athletic Commission disagree really shouldn't mean much.

9:48 p.m.: The crowd boos as Machida is asked about the win. He says he deserves the victory, that each judge awarded it for him and that should be enough. Rua isn't convinced. His corner told him he was ahead. He felt he was ahead. It's difficult to disagree with him.

9:44 p.m.: The bell sounds, both men raise their hands. Shogun's looked sincere. Machida's an act to sell the judges. My final tally: 10-9 Rua, making it three rounds to two for the former Pride champion, a man that rebounded from a terrible defeat to Forrest Griffin, from multiple surgeries on the same knee. All three judges: 48-47. And STILL UFC champion, Lyoto Machida.

9:40 p.m.: An elbow and a right hand score for the champion. His most effective shots in a long time. But Rua is still ahead. Machida, standing on a canvas that must feel like three feet of water, is a minute away from losing his belt. And suffering his first defeat.

ROUND 5, 9:38 p.m.: Machida needs a dominant effort here in the final period, though it's been so tight it's difficult to know how the judges inside Staples Center will see it. For my money, Shogun's consistent attacks on Machida's legs and body have taken their toll. He isn't moving very well. And Machida just ate a really big kick that straightens his left leg.

9:36 p.m.: Machida needs to figure out a new offensive approach. He's not doing enough. Not close. Hand it to Rua, he is doing exactly what he planned. The champion appears unsettled and walks back to his corner, hands on hips -- and not out of fatigue. Rua takes it 10-9.

ROUND 4, 9:33 p.m.: As effective as he's been to the body, Shogun may want to threaten with a takedown sometime in this round. He can't allow Machida to get his feet underneath him. Two minutes down. Machida slips and Shogun charges forward looking to put the champion on his back. Not to be. Impressive defense again from Machida.

9:30 p.m.: Thirty seconds to go in the third and Machida finally fires a mean combination as Shogun moves backwards to the fence. The challenger has not gone away, nor does it appear he will. 10-9 Machida. Could be a pivotal round.

9:29 p.m.: Solid kick to Machida's midsection. Shogun has forsaken going after the champion's head, and is focusing squarely on his body.

ROUND 3, 9:28 p.m.: Shogun opens with another solid kick to the body. Machida offers a combination that Rua defends well. The pace is slow as patience persists on both sides. The tension, however, is rising here. A solid leg kick by Shogun. Machida hasn't figured out distance here. And he's beginning to load up on power shots. This is the most difficulty he has faced in a fight. No doubt about that. Another leg kick puts him clearly ahead with 2:15 remaining in the third round. 9:24 p.m.: Best work in the clinch from Shogun closes out the second round. I think Machida did enough to win the round, but it's another close one to score. This fight feels destined for the later rounds. Pressure on both sides will rise if action continues the way it has through 10 minutes.

9:22 p.m.: Smart. Shogun trained to finish combinations with kicks to the body, and he just did it right there. A flying knee from Rua is countered by stiff straight left by Machida.

ROUND 2, 9:20 p.m.: Action is solid through 90 seconds. Shogun has pushed forward more than he did in the first. Machida is moving well and exploited openings when they appear. Rua took a knee to get inside, and he's digging for a double-leg. The UFC champ, however, is well balanced and works free. Beautiful movement allows Machida to score with an inside leg kick.

9:18 p.m.: It will be interesting to see how Machida handles a situation if he gets down on the cards. If he's forced to press and get out of his game plan. The charging "Shogun" Machida thought he might encounter is yet to show.

9:17 p.m.: This round is up for grabs as we head into the final minute, Shogun connects with a stiff kick to the leg. And a counter right hand. This has been a very good opening five minutes for Rua, who is fighting with patience and he's not head hunting. A very close opening period. 10-9 Rua, though judges could easily see it the other way.

9:15 p.m.: Midway through the opening round and this is a technical, tactical fight. Good exchange. Jab-straight from Machida. Kick to the body by Rua.

9:14 p.m.: Clinch after a knee to the body from Machida. Shogun has always used takedowns. It's probably the most underrated part of his game, and if he finds away to put the fight down and work from the top he can be successful. The first effort was countered and defended nicely by Machida. A running knee by Machida brings "oohs" from the crowd, but little damage.

ROUND 1, 9:12 p.m: Machida, southpaw, comes out hands high and out in front. Rua, much more traditional Muay Thai. Rua's early attacks: two kicks to the body. Neither connected, but it's a smart target.

9:11 p.m.: The first question: will Shogun aggressively head hunt. If he does, I think he's dead in the water. Machida keeps his range and distance better than anyone in the sport. Earlier this week when I asked Machida about Rua's style, he was pretty clear: "I think he's the perfect style because I'm a counter-striker and Shogun is a guy that moves forward." 9:09 p.m.: Tale of the tape: Machida, 31, 6' 1", 202.5 lbs, 74" reach; Rua, 27, 6' 1", 204.5 lbs., 76" reach.

9:07 p.m.: Techno beats welcome "Shogun" to the cage while Machida enters to a "Karate anthem" recorded by his father. I overheard them rehearsing it Tuesday in a side office at Black House. Lyoto's father made it a point to sing the samurai ballads to him and his brothers while they grew up outside Belem, Brazil.

8:45 p.m.: Well before Royce Gracie educated Americans about the effectiveness of grappling arts in hand-to-hand combat, Brazilians had already exerted a strong influence over what would eventually evolve into mixed martial arts. When his career is done, Lyoto Machida may be remembered as an equally important pioneer.

Like Gracie and his clan, Machida's family has taken an art -- karate -- and adapted it to work in competition that demands open borders. His is a style that favors defense and precision. Don't get hit. Don't get hurt. Counter and damage and fluster and win.

Yet for as much is made of his flawless technique, it's a trait that separates great fighters from the rest that made Machida better than each of the 15 men he's faced as a professional fighter.

"The physical part and the technique everyone pretty much has," said Lyoto's karate master father Yoshizo. "I believe the difference is mental strength."

Thus far, Machida has been so overwhelming in competition that resolve hasn't been an issue. These days, the 31-year-old Brazilian's mental strength is reserved for fending off the banality and complacency that can come with anyone within earshot speaking of your greatness. Refusing to buy into that can be as mentally taxing as five rounds in the cage.

"My father brought me up with the samurai spirit," Machida said. "Two people can be doing the same thing, but if you have a different mindset one of them is going to excel."

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (18-3), Machida's challenger tonight in Los Angeles, is familiar with the complexities that arise with being called the best. At his height, "Shogun" was No. 1 at light heavyweight. However, four years worth of injuries and trouble in fights have done their part in knocking down the 27-year-old former Pride grand prix champion down a few pegs.

Still, after a stoppage victory over Chuck Liddell in April, there's no doubt that Shogun remains incredibly dangerous.

It will be aggression and passion against counter-fighting and serenity in a bout most, including myself, expect Machida to prevail.

"Whatever Shogun decides to do," Machida said. "I have a plan."

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