Shogun-Machida II: A pound-for-pound star returns
The road to a championship belt is an exhaustive journey—it can be harder to hold on to a title than it is to earn it, something understood with the revolving door of Light Heavyweight title holders in the UFC. Since Rampage Jackson defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 75 back in 2007, only one 205er—Lyoto Machida—been able to successfully defend the strap. However, take away the judges scorecards, and many believe Machida failed in his last outing against Shogun Rua last October.
Says Machida of their first fight, “After analyzing the fight and thinking about the fight, I still feel the judges made the right choice.”
Is it conceivable that Lyoto could acknowledge the prospect of defeat? After all, many times an athlete will acknowledge that the decision could have gone either way, as Jim Miller graciously admitted after a close call with Mark Bocek at UFC 111.
“I think it was a controversial fight,” said Rua, however, he was willing to admit that judging is subjective, “Some people thought I won the fight and some people thought I lost.”
We say that there’s truth in the ring, and that deep down inside, the fighters know what really happened. The man who absorbed more punishment has to live with an inner truth that no statistic on power connects or slow motion replay can reveal. With that being said, the mere fact that Machida can’t allow any sliver of doubt to permeate his mindset suggests a mental defense mechanism rather than the self-assuredness that he will outperform Shogun this time out.
The familiarity of a second encounter will only work to Shogun’s advantage as he commits to his takedowns and again breaks Machida’s passive-aggressive rhythm of striking. Shogun’s chin has been nothing short of iron against the very best fighters available, and there’s little reason to believe he’ll get stopped by Machida at this point.
Lyoto commented on the popular idea that a challenger has to win by a large margin by saying this, “I don’t believe the challenger needs to take the belt from the champion. It should be judged round by round and fairly.” If this is a reflection of his mindset, than perhaps he has complete faith in the precision strikes that have kept him undefeated for sixteen fights—but unless he changes his game plan dramatically, it’s probable he’ll again eat the same leg kicks as before.
The bad aftertaste of the unpopular judges’ decision at UFC 104 will taint this fight and raise the stakes: the winner here will actually get credit for two wins. In modern MMA, it has become more important to eke out the ‘W’ than to win impressively—so expect a repeat performance of the first fight with a different verdict being read when it’s all over.