What we learned from UFC 113 in Montreal:
1. Shogun slays The Dragon
Has there ever been a more scrutinized mixed martial arts fight than the one put on by Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua last October in Los Angeles?
Each round of their tense 25-minute bout was watched, rewatched, scored and scored again. Each game plan, dissected. Each exchange, slo-mo'd. Each judge's tally, graded. That, after all, is what fight fans do when a terrific championship contest is marred by controversial judging.
The rematch in front of an excited crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal won't require so much examination -- unless your aim is to break down an explosive finish.
Both Rua (19-4) and Machida (16-1) said before their UFC 113 main event -- which was signed almost immediately after a unanimous decision at UFC 104 left the majority of fans and media thinking it should have gone to Shogun -- that lessons from L.A. would matter in the rematch.
At the top of Rua's list: there was no apparent need to be concerned with Machida's power. That's how it looked while the 28-year-old former Pride tournament champion, who in 2005 was the best fighter in MMA, fearlessly chased down his countryman in the opening round.
"I noticed that every time he would try to attack by timing my kicks, he was attacking but without his guard in the proper place, with his face exposed," Rua said of the vanquished Machida. "This time, I worked a lot not only on the kicks, but also on a high overhand right punch to surprise him as he was trying to move in from my kicks."
It was a right hand that ricocheted off Machida's head and sent the karate stylist to the canvas, where he absorbed several punches to the face before referee Yves Lavigne intervened at 3:35 of Round 1.
Since Pride's demise in 2007, Rua's path to a UFC championship hasn't been easy. He endured two ACL reconstructions, slow recoveries and setbacks in the cage. Before Saturday's bout, he dealt with appendicitis and required surgery two months ago. But that's Rua: rarely complaining, always working, never surrendering. The people who shaped Rua's early career, namely former Chute Boxe trainer Rafael Cordeiro, said he would eventually turn out better than his old training partner and mentor, Wanderlei Silva. Rua's performance against Machida, 31, suggests he can still overtake Silva as the best Brazilian light heavyweight in MMA history. It will require consistency, and there isn't a more dangerous division in the sport right now than UFC's light heavyweight lot. Many people felt Machida was the man to carry the division. Not with Shogun around.
2. Koscheck still outmatched against St. Pierre
Josh Koscheck is a terrific welterweight. He's an excellent grappler, a quality striker. Stubborn. Cocky. Athletic. Everything you'd want out of a pro fighter. And yet he doesn't stand a chance against UFC champion George St. Pierre. Koscheck, 32, earned the opportunity Saturday thanks to a lopsided decision win over England's Paul Daley (23-9-2).
Koscheck's biggest problem: He can't do to St. Pierre what he did to a 27-year-old Brit lacking a wrestling pedigree. We know because St. Pierre and Koscheck met in 2007 and the Canadian did what he wanted for 15 minutes. Koscheck (15-4) may have improved his all-around MMA game over the past three years, but did he grow as much as St. Pierre (19-2), who underwent what could only be described as an incremental leap forward in his evolution as a fighter an an athlete? Doubtful.
Fans will need to wait until St. Pierre and Koscheck coach Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter for an end-of-the-year title fight, and I doubt many will give Koscheck a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset. I know I won't.
3. Daley pays steep price for cheap shot
You won't catch me complaining about the UFC's release of Daley after he sucker-punched Koscheck with a left hook following their fight. It was a strong statement that in the UFC there's a price to be paid for acting like a thug.
It would be nice, however, if UFC president Dana White stopped sending mixed messages about this kind of thing
While Daley joins Renato "Babalu" Sobral in UFC exile for classless moves in the Octagon, Nate Diaz went unpunished for his role in that brawl on CBS a couple weeks ago. Jake Shields, a coveted free agent, is likely headed to the UFC despite escalating tensions and throwing a punch that night in Nashville. And, of course, steroid users like Stephan Bonnar and Chris Leben remain entrenched on the UFC roster when others have been dismissed.
Justifying the release of Daley while moving to acquire Shields seems to be inconsistent thinking. Same goes for signing Gilbert Yvel, who infamously laid out a referee early in his career. Or adding boxer James Toney, who twice tested positive for steroids.
No doubt, some of these guys are rough characters. It is, after all, the fight business. Two things should happen:
1. The UFC, as well as other serious MMA promoters, should adopt code-of-conduct standards that spell out penalties for their violation.
2. Fighters need to be provided with the opportunity to defend themselves.
Even when the UFC is correct, like in the Daley situation, it would only be beneficial to if fighters had some recourse.
4. Goodbye, Kimbo
White made the right call Saturday by announcing Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson was going to be cut from the UFC after getting stopped by a 2-0 Matt Mitrione.
Ferguson, now 36, wasn't going to be any good as a professional mixed martial artist. That much was clear from his first few attempts at the sport. But not only did Slice (4-2) continue to get his chances, he did so on the biggest stages. Why? His persona. His ability to move the needle. And the UFC certainly wasn't above milking Slice for as long as they could get away with it -- about six months.
They pushed the bearded YouTube sensation down fans' throats throughout the tenth season of The Ultimate Fighter, despite the fact he lost in Week 3 to Roy Nelson. Every subsequent episode teased a return that never materialized.
The rationale put forward by UFC in bringing Slice aboard centered on the idea that the Floridian, who at the height of his popularity was featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, would need to prove himself to get in the Octagon. Other than in his ability to draw viewers, he never really did prove much of anything in competition. Still, his ability to draw ratings was worth keeping him around for a bit. Should there be any surprise that Slice couldn't cut it in the UFC when he couldn't hang in EliteXC?
He'll get chances to compete if he wants them, and there will be promoters out there dying to sell a Slice fight. But unless he makes some miraculous improvements to his game and approach, and finds new knees, Kimbo's 15 minutes are finally up.
5. Pride vs. UFC
Pride or the UFC: Which organization promoted the better fighters from 2001-2006? It's a fun little debate, one that continues to percolate among MMA's hardcore fans.
After Rua blasted Machida, fans of the dead-and-buried Japanese organization took it as some sign that Pride scored a measure of revenge Saturday. Just like UFC loyalists hoped to find significance in Rua's loss to Forrest Griffin in 2007.
Bunk. We should recognize by now that each fighter's effort is his own. Each bout is a unique chapter in careers that shouldn't be defined by organizations or politics.
Mauricio Rua didn't score one for Pride on Saturday. Lyoto Machida didn't damage the UFC's reputation.