By Thomas Gerbasi
LOS ANGELES, October 24 – Lyoto Machida is human. He also remains the UFC light heavyweight champion after a grueling five round unanimous decision win over Mauricio Rua Saturday night at STAPLES Center in a bout that may have shown more about the challenger than the champion, as ‘Shogun’ finally showed UFC fans the form that him terrorizing 205-pounders in Japan’s PRIDE organization from 2003 to 2007.
“I trained hard for this fight. I feel like I won this fight,” said Rua, who pushed Machida into deep waters he had never seen in his 16 fight pro career.
“It’s the most difficult fight I had in the UFC,” said Machida, who had not lost a round, let alone a fight in his seven previous trips to the Octagon.
Scores were 48-47 across the board for Machida. The decision was greeted with boos from the Los Angeles crowd, but in a bout as tough to score as this one, it’s hard to find fault with the final verdict.
Rua closed the distance fairly quickly to open the bout, only to be greeted by a series of knees from the champion. Rua continued to press, scoring with long-range kicks before grabbing hold of Machida and walking him into the fence, where he scored with knees at close range before Machida broke free, albeit with a red welt on his stomach. The tense war of nerves continued as the round entered its final two minutes, with each burst of action provoking a fevered reaction from the crowd, and rightfully so, as each fighter was looking for the homerun with each swing of their fists or legs.
The kicks kept coming from Rua in round two, as he had more success against Machida than any UFC opponent to date. Machida was still getting his shots in though, with a 1-2 knocking Rua backwards briefly. With 3:20 left, Rua looked to take Machida down but was turned away, and now ‘Shogun’ was showing redness around his belly from Machida’s shots. With under a minute left, the two locked up, with Rua scoring with knees as they battled at close range against the fence, but he was unable to press his advantage before the bell rang.
Exchanges between Machida and Rua began to take on more urgency in round three, with ‘Shogun’s ability to take Machida’s shots and still fire back making this a difficult bout for either fighter to break wide open. And as the two battled with a intensity, Rua’s thudding kicks were starting to land with more and more frequency. It may have been what Machida needed, as he kicked into gear with a furious flurry that seemed to startle Rua – at least until ‘Shogun’ started firing back, much to the delight of the crowd.
The early part of round four was tense, with the pace suiting the more methodical Machida, who landed some hard kicks to keep Rua at bay. A slip by Machida brought Rua running across the Octagon, but the champion avoided the takedown and got back to business as he tried to pick Rua apart while avoiding his opponent’s vaunted Muay Thai clinch. Rua didn’t lose focus, and he kept moving forward, although he wasn’t able to match his offensive success of previous rounds.
Rua came out for the final round intent on bringing a world title back to Curitiba, and he pressed the action in the first half of the round, even bloodying Machida’s lip during an exchange. Machida responded with a clinch against the fence that stalled and forced a re-start from referee Herb Dean. Rua continued to move forward, and he seemed to be the fresher of the two fighters as he stalked the champion to the bell while the crowd chanted his name.
With the win, Machida improves to 16-0 and becomes the first UFC light heavyweight champion since Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to successfully defend the crown; Rua falls to 18-4.