Ben Fowlkes
Sunday October 25th, 2009

They say you have to clearly beat the champion if you want to take his belt. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua seemed to have done just that at UFC 104 on Saturday night, but the mere fact that UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida was still conscious at the end was apparently enough for the judges to give him the victory.

For five rounds Rua punished Machida, battering his ribs and thighs with brutal kicks, and yet somehow Rua still walked out of the Staples Center in Los Angeles without the belt around his waist. In a decision that was met with a chorus of boos from the fans in attendance, Machida retained his title thanks to the unanimous nod from the judges, all three of whom scored the bout 48-47 for the champion. Exactly what fight those judges were watching is still unclear.

The elusive Machida, who makes opponents miss before making them pay, was nowhere to be found in his first title defense. After finding his range early on, Rua had no problem landing repeated kicks to Machida's body throughout the championship bout, while successfully avoiding most of the typically effective Machida counter strikes.

By the end of the fight Machida's ribs glowed bright red and his face was bloodied like never before in his UFC career. The fighter who had never lost a round suddenly seemed to have lost at least three, if not more.

But for reasons that will likely remain a mystery, the judges didn't agree. When asked for his take on the verdict, a subdued Machida could only point out that with all the judges on his side, it must have been the right decision. Not that it would be the first time three judges all got it wrong together.

In the night's co-main event, heavyweight Cain Velasquez proved himself hype-worthy by overwhelming a bigger, slower Ben Rothwell en route to a second-round TKO victory. Velasquez relied on his superior speed and wrestling ability to put Rothwell on his back over and over again in the first round, nearly finishing the former IFL standout with a fast-paced ground-and-pound attack in the first.

Rothwell would last into the second, only to face more of the same from the relentless Velasquez. As he scrambled to his feet off another Velasquez takedown he absorbed a torrent of left hands to the jaw, prompting a referee stoppage that was peculiarly timed, but not altogether incomprehensible. With the impressive win against an experienced and game opponent, Velasquez may have positioned himself near the top of the elite list of UFC heavyweight title contenders.

In other action from UFC 104:

• Lightweight Gleison Tibau had no trouble taking Josh Neer down early and often, controlling the gritty brawler for the entirety of their three-round tilt and winning the unanimous decision.

Chael Sonnen out-wrestled and outworked Japanese middleweight Yushin Okami over the course of three rounds, winning a clear cut unanimous decision victory.

Jorge Rivera notched his second straight UFC victory with a TKO win over Rob Kimmons at 1:53 of round three.

• Lightweight Joe Stevenson grinned his way through a round and a half of action against Spencer Fisher, and had plenty to smile about when he locked up a crucifix position and began raining down elbows on a defenseless Fisher, forcing the referee stoppage at 4:03 of round two.

• Though some might have questioned Anthony Johnson's focus when he came in six pounds overweight for his welterweight scrap with Yoshiyuki Yoshida, "Rumble" wasted no time once in the Octagon, picking Yoshida apart and putting him away early with a big right hand just 41 seconds into the first round.

• Twice Ryan Bader came very close to finishing Eric Schafer, thanks to the looping right hand that is quickly becoming his signature punch, but Schafer proved to be a game opponent as he held on for all three rounds, eventually dropping the unanimous decision to the former "Ultimate Fighter" winner.

• Heavyweight Pat Barry proved to have the faster hands in what was primarily a kickboxing match with Antoni Hardonk, where Barry battled through inadvertent eye pokes and bone-rattling leg kicks to win a TKO victory at 2:30 of round two.

• AKA light heavyweight Kyle Kingsbury got his first UFC win via split decision against Razak Al-Hassan after three very close rounds of action.

• Lanky Dutch fighter Stefan Struve proved his grappling bona fides against Chase Gormley, winning via triangle choke submission at 4:04 of round one.

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