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UFC 113 Main Event Breakdown: Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua

Depending on if you believe your own eyes, or what stats, judges, reporters or fans you put your trust in, a case could be made for either Mauricio "Shogun" Rua or Lyoto Machida as the winner of their first light-heavyweight championship fight at UFC 104. While neither side has conceded the debate over the last six months, at least Saturday's UFC 113 may finally bring some closure to the issue.

With a matchup so close the first time around, it is clear that the changes and adjustments both men make will decide who walks out of the octagon in Montreal with the belt for good.

Going into their Oct. 2009 matchup, Machida was nearly a 5-to-1 favorite, as most people believed that the disciplined counter-striker extraordinaire would be able to capitalize on Rua's wildness and activity. But a funny thing happened to "the Dragon" on the way to world dominance: Rua threw him a changeup. Instead of the aggressive, wild Rua most expected, we got a patient, tactical version with a sharp plan and the discipline to execute it.

By the end of the first round, it was clear to see that Rua understood that his greatest strength played directly into Machida's, and that a new strategy would be the best strategy. Instead of head-hunting, Rua spent a lot of time on kicks to the body and legs, hoping to wear the champion down in the late rounds, when he'd be slower and more susceptible to more traditional attacks. Machida, meanwhile, landed his own shots occasionally, but for the first time in his UFC career looked uncertain of his own strategy.

Tactically at least, Shogun achieved what he wanted to, frustrating the champion and finding openings that few realized were so readily available.

In the end, however, the judges scored it three rounds to two for Machida. With the benefit of hindsight (as well as a review of ensuing comments by the ringside judges), it seems likely that the judges valued Machida's headstrikes above Rua's attack to the body and legs, and that small distinction could have cost Rua the world title.

So what will change this time around? It's impossible to say. The interesting thing here is both sides firmly believe they won, so they have little reason to abandon their plan in the second meeting, and are much more likely to simply add in a few alternations. That said, one side is going to blink first.

Machida knows Shogun came within a whisker of ending his title reign, and Shogun is well aware that if he did just a little bit more, he'd be the champion right now.

Making that assumption, I expect Rua to employ a similar game plan, sprinkled with a bit more aggression in hopes of more decisively winning rounds.

Machida is a counterpuncher to the core. That's what he's always been most comfortable doing, and he doesn't figure to change. He may be more prepared for what's coming and have a better sense of Rua's timing, but I don't expect that to make him alter what he's been doing all these years.

His sense of distance and timing is unreal and unusual, and because of that, he's always had a built-in advantage over opponents, who can't really understand what they're in for until they're standing across from him. But that advantage is gone this time around. Unlike every other fighter who's stepped into the cage with Machida, Rua has the luxury of having experienced his timing, style and pace. So at least in theory, fighting him a second time should be easier, not more difficult.

He also understands how to get to Machida. His leg and body kicks were effective. Sure, Machida will have a better idea of Rua's arsenal, but Rua has more to fall back on. He can always threaten with takedowns (an underrated part of his game), he can mix up his pace, he can threaten from all sorts of places. Machida can just react.

The danger comes if Rua abandons the conservative strategy of the first fight, overextends himself and goes too far. I don't see that happening. I think he does enough to win exchanges and then pulls out to avoid any counters and restart his offense.

There is one other factor at play here, one that it may be easy to dismiss or ignore as it has nothing to do with either Rua or Machida, and that is the judges. The three people who are scoring this bout are painfully aware of the controversy from the first fight. In a close round, it's certainly possible that history affects their scoring, even if it's only on a subconscious level. After all, nobody wants to see Rua get "robbed" again.

Shogun has been back from his injury for well over a year. I think he's back to the athletic form that made him arguably the world's best 205-pounder five years ago, and his evolved maturity and discipline are new weapons in his arsenal.

His performance last October was no fluke; it was a strategic game plan implemented brilliantly. It was in some ways a Machida-like performance. Now it is up to Rua to one-up himself. With the psychological affects of fighting Machida out of the way, I think he'll do it. Machida is no longer a puzzle to him; he's just a man who can be hit, who can be hurt, who is human.

Shogun is the mystery now. He threw more, landed more and made Machida miss more. It was one fight where the loser left with motivation, confidence, and a deeper understanding of the fight's dynamics. It carries over to the sequel, and he won't be denied. Rua by decision.

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