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Outrage in Shogun-Machida Decision Unwarranted in Razor-Close Fight

Lyoto MachidaThe final horn sounded and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua raised his hands towards the roof of the Staples Center, sure he'd just won the UFC light-heavyweight championship. The building's 16,000 fans cheered him, ready to shower him with glory to match his new gold.

The judges' decision, they decided, was a formality, but still they'd wait for it. And then it was read. Rua and the fans, it seemed were wrong. At least in the eyes of the three judges who mattered. Lyoto Machida was declared the winner, with 48-47 scores across the board.

The reaction was instantaneous. It was a "robbery," a "farce," and "ridiculous." The audience hurled venom at Machida, the same man they'd adored a few minutes earlier, as the belt was re-strapped around his waist.

The MMA game, we have found out over and over, has issues. The refs sometimes make mistakes, the judges sometimes score rounds incorrectly. This does not make our sport any different than any other. Has anyone been watching the baseball playoffs? The umpires have missed a slew of calls. What about college football? The nation's glamour division -- the SEC -- recently suspended officials for a pair of controversial penalties.

That, of course, does not excuse the mistakes that happen, or even rationalize them. It's simply more evidence that once humans under pressure are involved with subjective judgments, errors are going to happen.

Here's the thing about Machida-Rua: once you put aside personal biases, you should realize there was no overwhelming winner. Rua did not beat Machida down for five rounds and get robbed. Did he deserve to win the fight? Probably. I did the play-by-play for FanHouse and scored the fight three rounds to two for Rua, giving him the first, fourth and fifth. According to, Rua outlanded Machida in total strikes 82-42, though 49 strikes were kicks to Machida's legs.

The ringside judges (Nelson Hamilton, Marcos Rosales and Cecil Peoples), however, gave the fight to Machida, three rounds to two. I can not blame them. Round one was razor close. Round two was competitive. Round three was probably Machida's, but not by much. Round four was tight. Round five was Shogun's. After 25 minutes, there was not much separating the champion and challenger. This wasn't a robbery; it was a difference of opinion.

In sports, we sometimes watch with our hearts, and so when something goes wrong, we overstate the transgression. But this was not one to steam over. Both men had their moments, but neither took control of the fight. Neither dominated. Again, I had Shogun winning the fight, but not by much.

Not even Shogun could bring himself to outrage. He didn't slam the judges or complain. There was no look of anger or pain on his face. Rather, he simply said, "I am very happy with my performance, but disheartened with the results."

In the postfight press conference, UFC President Dana White guaranteed a rematch.

"You never want to hear people boo the main event," he said. "It's unfortunate. But that's why I believe this will be a good rematch. They won't make the same mistakes next time. Each one will try to win decisively."

You can claim Rua was wronged, but you could try this in court, with a jury and might leave with it hung. The fight was that close. For 25 minutes, they fought evenly, Shogun becoming the first man in the UFC to find Machida's chin, and Machida picking his spots.

Neither man was overly aggressive, afraid to overcommit and get caught by a perfectly timed strike that could lead to the finish. Neither tried to finish rounds with a flurry to steal an otherwise close round. Neither dropped the other, or even staggered them. Every five-minute stretch ended with some doubt.

Rua's corner told him he was winning. Machida's corner did the same. In the crowd, the fans -- many of whom started the fight rooting for Machida -- began moving into Rua's camp. That made sense, since Machida was a 4 1/2 to 1 favorite and fans often gravitate towards the underdog. The argument continued online. On Twitter, UFC heavyweight Shane Carwin thought the judges got it wrong, but Strikeforce lightweight Josh Thomson thought they were right on point. Not even a computer had a decisive stance; gave Machida a higher performance rating, but Rua the win under the 10-point must system.

Rua may not have the belt, but he won in the court of public opinion. The fans see him as the winner. And if White follows through on his promise, Rua will get another crack at the gold.

If you thought Shogun won, you have every right to believe it. But this was a fight so close, the judges have every right to believe they made the right decision, too. I saw enough to call Rua the winner; but not enough to call him a victim.

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