Like most great fights, Machida-Rua will be ongoing story

Publish date:

Barely an hour after UFC 104 delivered one of the most interesting title fights in years, Dream, with Schiavello calling the action for HDNet, debuted a "cage" made of high-tensile mesh originally designed to reel in the catch of the day. Dream 12 is worth discussing, and we will, but first, some thoughts on mixed martial arts' return to Los Angeles.

I wasn't at the Staples Center for Lyoto Machida's UFC light heavyweight title defense against Mauricio Rua, so I can't speak on the crowd's energy during the fight. However, watching live on TV, Rua appeared to do enough to warrant a victory.

In part, that was due to broadcasters Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the 25-minute tug-of-war as if "Shogun" had massacred Machida. The supposed number of "devastating" kicks by the challenger would bring down an elephant.

Also, expectations surely played a role in the meme that Rua was "robbed." Machida, 31, came into the fight billed as unhittable, unhurtable. He never lost a round in his life, UFC president Dana White repeatedly reminded everyone -- not that it wasn't true. But sometimes, when you hear something enough, you start to believe it, especially when it sounds super-human and pertains to an undefeated karate master. Simply by virtue of the fact that Shogun had success in the fight, is it too much to suggest perception of his effort was aided by low expectations in the minds of viewers?

And, finally, Rua did his damage late.

Upon a second viewing, this time with muted audio, the 48-47 scores in favor of Machida (16-0) tallied by Cecil Peoples, Marcos Rosales and Nelson "Doc" Hamilton don't seem at all like larceny, even if that's how many people reacted to the unanimous decision.

Peoples and Rosales handed in identical scoresheets: Rounds 1, 2 and 3 for the champ, Rounds 4 and 5 to the challenger. Hamilton reached the same total by bookending Machida in 2 through 4 with Rua's first and fifth. Live, I saw it 48-47 for Rua, giving him Rounds 1, 4 and 5. Surprisingly, the replay made it tougher to score. I had a difficult time finding separation in the opening frame, and though I loathe using it, a 10-10 round seems appropriate. Twenty minutes later and I have no problem with 48-48.

White made the right call by doing something he rarely does: grant an immediate rematch. Not only does it allow the division time to simmer while Quinton Jackson finishes his stint on the big screen, it lets two very good fighters get back in the cage for a fight fans should be eager to see. I certainly am.

Rua, 27, was about as good it gets when it came to his execution. He implemented his planned attack to the body, and though it must have been tempting, "Shogun" never went head-hunting -- a decision that kept him under control and at a distance difficult for Machida to counter. Rua also landed enough punches to bloody the titleholder's nose and make oddsmakers book a much closer price in the rematch.

Will the same strategy work for Rua (18-4) in the rematch? Is there another way to find success against Machida, who did a very nice job of staying off his back, moving and counter attacking? The rematch will determine that. For now, I'm content to re-watch and analyze one of the most intriguing fights in a long time. When it grew apparent the fight would head past the 15th minute, a tension arose that MMA rarely delivers. Major championship boxing bouts, the 36-minute kind, that go into the later rounds often play out like a story, with a beginning, middle and end. That's how I felt watching Machida-Shogun.

The fight itself sprouted a new life -- Machida-Shogun II -- one that will grow into next year.

Heavyweight Cain Velasquez tore through Ben Rothwell a minute into the second round to continue his rise in an improving UFC division. Some have said the win is worthy of a title crack. I don't think so. Not yet. I'm not denying Velasquez's talent or potential, but by my count, Velasquez has never defeated a top-10 heavyweight. Despite his experience in a fight, Rothwell (30-7) wasn't among my 15 best fighters in the division when I put out rankings last month. It would be silly to rush Velasquez (7-0) up that quickly. Make an eliminator or two. I'd love to see the powerful wrestler fight Junior Dos Santos.

• Yushin Okami is his own worst enemy. Injuries and bad results at inopportune times mean the Japanese fighter is in a tough spot with the UFC. I'm not sure he'll return following a no-doubter decision loss to Chael Sonnen (24-10-1). And lobbying by fans and media to place Okami (23-5) more prominently on UFC cards is done.

• Anthony Johnson (8-2) may have blamed his inflated weight on a knee injury. But a source told me Johnson, who blew away Yoshiyuki Yoshida (11-4) in 41 seconds, blew up to 220 pounds while recently shooting a movie. Still, falling six pounds short of 170 pounds isn't something a professional does.

• Joe Stevenson (31-10) looked impressive against a wilting Spencer Fisher (23-5). Strike to setup takedowns. Pass the guard. Pound away. That's the formula for Stevenson, and he worked through it perfectly on Saturday.

A few wild happenings from Dream 12 in Osaka, Japan:

• Alistair Overeem nearly launched himself out of the cage in the opening moment against James Thompson (14-11). He took off a bit like a rocket, which is made more impressive by the fact that someone put his head on Bob Sapp's body. In a previous life, Overeem (31-11-1) was a lanky light heavyweight. It's hard to even recognize the alleged Strikeforce heavyweight champion.

• Eddie Alvarez had a tougher-than-expected go against Katsunori Kikuno. Bellator champ versus Deep champion. Alvarez (18-2) relentlessly went after Kikuno (12-2-1) in the second round. Eventually, after repeatedly pushing forward, Alvarez secured an arm-triangle choke.

• I tweeted this earlier, but it's worth repeating: Welterweight Marius Zaromskis (13-3) is the new high-kicking maven. A mallet in the form of the Lithuanian's shin plowed into his opponent's head early in the opening round. Let's put this Dream-Strikeforce partnership to the test. How about Zaromskis (No. 9 in my rankings at 170 before his third straight high-kick knockout) versus Jake Shields?

• Yoshiro Maeda (26-7-2) took it to hard-luck case Chase Beebe. The victim of an awful decision in early October, there would be no controversy this time around for Beebe (12-5) thanks to a Maeda rear-naked choke.

• Finally, Kazushi Sakuraba (26-12-1) keeps fighting. He also keeps getting his head caved in. But he still has it in him to endure and come from behind, even when he's ahead. Ask Zelg Galesic (14-5), who after defending leg locks and cracking Sakuraba's skull with his fists, tapped to a first-round kneebar. Any legitimate step up in competition is a recipe for serious injury.

FOWLKES:Machida retains title with controversial decision

GROSS:Blow-by-blow analysis of Machida vs. Rua

VIDEO: Highlights from UFC 104 post-fight press conference