In a night where discrepancy won out, there was one thing UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and UFC president Dana White could all agree upon: a rematch between the two Brazilians, who came to blows at UFC 104 Saturday in Los Angeles, is in order.
Machida earned a unanimous decision over Rua in a cerebral tug-of-war that saw both give and take damage in controlled bursts through five rounds.
Judges Cecil Peoples and Marcos Rosales both awarded Machida the first three rounds and gave Rua the final two. Judge Nelson “Doc” Hamilton scored rounds one and five for Rua, but gave Machida the middle rounds. Scores were united at 48-47 in Machida’s favor.
Gauging by reaction, it seemed a majority of the crowd inside the Staples Center, as well as fans watching the live pay-per-view, disagreed with the final tallies. Internet boards swelled with reaction for Rua minutes after the decision was read.
Rua did better than anyone has ever fared against the karate-bred Machida, who’d never dropped a round in the UFC until Saturday. An aggressive, impulsive striker in the past, the one-time Pride grand prix champion reigned in his arsenal and was especially effective with a right body kick, which marked up Machida’s side and seemed to stifle his explosive counter-attacks.
“I thought ‘Shogun’ won the fight,” said White at the post-fight press conference.
White said he’d scored rounds one, four, and five for Rua and that the promotion already planned to schedule an “immediate rematch.” White added that he’d already gotten verbal commitments from both fighters.
Rua, who knocked out Chuck Liddell last April to earn a shot at the 205-pound title, said he was pleased with his performance, but “disheartened” by the results.
“In my opinion, I thought I’d won the last three rounds,” he said through his manager and translator Eduardo Alonso. “My cornermen told me I was winning the fight. Everybody that has spoke to me after the fight has told me the same thing, that they thought that I won.”
White was as perplexed by the judges’ decision as Rua and his team.
“Everybody can watch a fight and look and see when momentum turns and when guys are landing more,” said White. “I just don’t see how these guys don’t see what everybody else sees.”
Only Machida, who arrived to the conference later, stood by the decision.
“There’s three judges and all three judges had a unanimous decision that (I) won the fight,” said Machida through his manager and translator Ed Soares. “(I) wasn’t the one who called the fight. The judges were.”
Still, Machida didn’t protest a second meeting.
“Of course,” said Machida. “If the UFC decides we should have a rematch, then let’s have a rematch.”
Turning to the controversial judging, White was resolute for improvement.
“It drives me crazy when these guys put so much time and work and effort into these fights, going out there and fighting like that, and then not getting the right call,” said White. “But the answer is yes. We’re working hard to try and get better referees and get better judging and make sure that this doesn’t happen. It’s disappointing.”
White’s only criticism for the fighters was that they’d let their fates fall in the judges’ hands.
“At the end of every round, neither guy went after it,” said White. “Neither guy tried to steal the round. Machida’s the champ and the judges gave it to Machida tonight.”
Machida, who has booed in the Octagon as the belt was strapped around his waist, promised a better performance in the rematch.
“I was 100 percent, but sometimes when you get in there your strategy doesn’t always work like you planned it to,” he said. “I would have liked to perform better, but it happens sometimes. I’m going to go home and watch the fight and when we fight again I’ll have a different plan and strategy.”
Rua, who said he’d studied Machida’s fights with his team for five months, also saw opportunity for improvement.
“I just didn’t press the action (in the last round) so much because I thought I was winning and there was no reason to take risks,” said Rua. “I think for the rematch I would train the same way, because I felt like it was a good thing.”
White said the jeers that followed the final curtain were all he needed to make his decision.
“I’m ready to make the rematch as fast as we can and I think that the second fight will be the fight we expected to see,” said White. “I think they’re both going to come in and not make the same mistakes they made in this first fight. They’re going to come in and each one’s going to try and win decisively.”