This is what makes fighters a different breed than the rest: seven weeks after being sedated and cut open for an appendectomy, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua went back into the gym and prepared for a fight that was already the most important of his life. Instead of making excuses, he delivered the first knockout loss of Lyoto Machida’s career, earned a UFC light heavyweight championship, and eradicated the memory of poor performances. It’s a pretty good example of the patient making a successful recovery.
Even though he had all his organs, Machida has nothing to be ashamed of: he canned good fighters in Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz, and Thiago Silva, and could very well beat anyone else in the division. (Nobody’s kickboxing is more dangerous than Rua’s.) He also holds the distinction of being the only man in the past three years to defend the 205 lb. title at least once. The fact that it’s changed hands five times since 2007 is a strong case for that belt being the most heavily disputed in the sport.
But his future is unclear. Part of Machida’s appeal was the mysticism he brought into the Octagon -- the puzzle of being a traditionalist in a sea of biker-gang tough guys. Now that Rua has proved pressure is a potential solution, Machida can no longer be sold as an anomaly. Flaws in his system have been exposed. If people tolerated his disciplined approach because they were curious to see him figured out, that appeal is gone. It is up to him whether the return of his family’s karate will be as compelling an attraction as its emergence. Fortunately, most classic martial arts stories revolve around revenge.
Next for Rua: The winner of May 29’s Evans/Quinton Jackson main event.
Next for Machida: Forrest Griffin would probably be a confidence booster -- he can pressure, but rarely packs the big power shots.
Next for Josh Koscheck: Playing the heel on a 12th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” against Georges St. Pierre.
Next for Paul Daley: Obscurity.
Next for Kimbo Slice: "Tank" Abbott’s career revisited.
The Big John Award: Dan Miragliotta, for hustling a fouling Paul Daley into a neutral area and giving him a verbal reprimand for hitting Josh Koscheck after the bell.
The Split Decision Award: Sam Stout, for bringing his total of distance fights in the UFC to eight -- out of nine fights total. That kind of punishment will not do a body good.
The Optimism Award: Alan Belcher, for calling out Anderson Silva following a win against the nearly-two-year absent Patrick Cote.
The Hamlet Award: Koscheck, for embellishing a knee that was later found to have barely grazed his head.
Does Josh Koscheck have a new answer for GSP?
Fourteen UFC wins has earned Koscheck a rematch against St. Pierre -- but figuring out what to do once he gets in there is an entirely different discussion. In their first fight, Koscheck’s wrestling was completely steamrolled by St. Pierre’s, who dominated position for the decision. Frequently, fighters who come in with a clear foundation -- wrestling, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu -- begin de-prioritizing their primary skill in order to play catch up in other areas.
This is fine for awhile, but eventually, it dulls the edge of what made them so dangerous in the first place. Koscheck will never “forget” how to wrestle, but making that a leading component of his training would be a huge asset. If you cannot stop St. Pierre’s takedown, you have no chance of stopping St. Pierre.
Where does Kimbo Slice go from here?
Like anyone in combat sports with charisma, Slice will never be unemployed, but his opportunity to engage viewers on the UFC’s dime is over. (A loss to Matt Mitrione Saturday made sure of that.) He could head to Japan, where the heavyweight competition is more his speed, or to Strikeforce, which would probably see a ratings bump even after his higher-profile losses. The beauty of the audience’s short-term memory is simple: they’ll write you off after a loss, but pencil you right back in after a win. Having a personality that engages is the best pension you can hope for.
Is Paul Daley’s behavior inexcusable?
The only difference between a prizefight and assault is an airhorn, a fact that Daley found out the hard way when he took a shot at Josh Koscheck long after they had been separated for the final time Saturday. Daley was immediately cut from the UFC, severing any chance he had of continued opportunities for high-dollar sponsorships and finishing bonuses. He makes a better brawler than he does a rocket scientist.
But was it fair? Plenty of fighters have let their emotions get the better of them: they shove opponents at weigh-ins, offer tasteless insults, and occasionally -- like UFC employee Nate Diaz -- gang-beat fighters on live television. Daley should undoubtedly be punished with a long, long suspension and heavy fines, but permanent banishment is a little outsized for the crime, and so is the haste of making these judgments with emotions running high right after the infraction.
Gilbert Yvel, after all, once knocked out a referee. He fights Ben Rothwell in a June UFC.
Is Rua Pride’s last ember?
The corruption and egregious fighter manipulations aside, Pride represents the kind of pageantry and suspiciously-funded mega-matches that would win over any fan of fighting. But virtually every star from that era has faded -- often due to the terrible ring damage suffered in earning their overseas status.
Rua looked to be another addition to that list, but Saturday’s performance against Lyoto Machida proved without question that the 28-year-old did not leave his prime entirely in Japan. Unlike Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he didn’t receive too much punishment or fight too far outside his physical limitations. Pride as a brand is now mostly a video library; Rua is at least one remnant of the kind of energy and ability that helps keep their better days in memory.
Predictably, Mauricio Rua picked up an extra $65,000 for Knockout of the Night: Rua became the first man to beat Lyoto Machida; Sam Stout’s refusal to finish -- or be finished -- might have helped contribute to his bonus for Fight of the Night with Jeremy Stephens…Rua told “MMA Live” that he’d have no problem facing Anderson Silva, which would represent one of the bigger mega-fight opportunities for the UFC at the moment -- providing Rua beats Quinton Jackson or Rashad Evans and Silva gets past Chael Sonnen. It wouldn’t happen until 2011 at the earliest…Josh Koscheck said he’d rather not face Georges St. Pierre in Montreal. Koscheck, unfortunately or not, probably isn’t going to get much crowd support anywhere…Koscheck also told MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani that Paul Daley was “oiled” for their bout, a charge that seems irrelevant now but would’ve raised hell if Daley had brushed off any takedowns…17,647 attendees marked one of the company’s biggest live audiences, though a slight drop-off from UFC 97’s 21,000-plus. That show, headlined by the Anderson Silva/Thales Leites disaster, might have put a few repeat attendees off.