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Retro Robbery Review: Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua 1 at UFC 104

UFC 104: Machida vs. Shogun
Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 104 in Los Angeles on Oct. 24, 2009
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we’ll take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.

Today, we’re looking at the first meeting between then-light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua from UFC 104, which took place in Los Angeles on Oct. 24, 2009.

Why this fight? Previous editions of this feature focused primarily on dispelling the notion that certain famous fights were robberies, so it’s time we took a look at one that rightfully caused outrage as soon as the verdict was announced.

That’s right, it’s time to dissect Machida’s successful title defense against Shogun, also known as the “leg kicks don’t finish fights” fight.

What was the official result?

Lyoto Machida def. Mauricio Rua via unanimous decision.

How did the fight go?

Expectations were sky high for Machida who was 15-0 heading into his first title defense. Rua was well on his way to regaining the berserker form that made him such a terror in PRIDE, but Machida had earned a reputation as one of the UFC’s most puzzling fighters, so there was no telling how Rua’s trademark aggression would fare against him.

The story of the fight is Rua’s kicks for the most part as he makes it a point to bludgeon Machida’s body and legs throughout the contest. Machida fires back with kicks of his own, but never seems to be able to find his rhythm or match Rua’s pace. “The Dragon” is at his best when he can get in and out without damage, not when he’s in engaging in—and losing—exchanges.

Even as Machida finds openings for his punches, his legs are getting clipped almost every time he gets in close. In between rounds, his team works overtime to keep down the swelling and it looks like Rua is ahead after the first two frames.

There are positives to mention in Machida’s performance. His takedown defense is on point and he stuffs every Rua shot, whether it’s off of a strike, scramble, or as a counter to Machida’s knees. Machida simply refuses to be put on his back.

The best moment for the champion occurs at the end of round three. It’s a close one and Machida appears to steal it with a risky flurry at the end, though he does get clipped by a Rua counter-punch.

Other than that, so much of this battle is in Rua’s favor. Shogun turns Machida’s body and legs purple and though he can’t get a takedown, his wrestling against the fence prevents Machida from opening up and he consistently scores with elbows off of the break. His own body is the victim of Machida’s kicks and knees, but Shogun simply lands more than Machida does.

Before the fourth round, Machida’s corner tells him he’s winning the fight and sure enough, he looks tentative in that period. Is it possible he took his foot off the gas? If Shogun is ahead on the scorecards, he doesn’t fight like it, pushing the pace and keeping his focus on Machida’s legs.

Machida cannot land a fight-finishing punch because his balance is thrown off by a Rua kick every time he lunges in. We’d later find out that he didn’t need one.

The fight goes to the judges and Machida looks as surprised as anyone when the scores are read in his favor. Let’s take a closer look at them.

What did the judges say?

All three judges, Nelson Hamilton, Cecil Peoples, and Marcos Rosales scored it 48-47 Machida. Only 10-9s were used to score this bout.

Where the judges deviated was in the first and fourth round. Peoples and Rosales all scored the first three rounds for Machida and the last two rounds for Shogun.

Hamilton scored the first round for Shogun and the fourth round for Machida. It’s the second half of that sentence that is bewildering and we’ll see why in the next section.

What did the numbers say?

(Statistics per UFC Stats)

That Machida didn’t come close to winning this fight.

The stats are overwhelmingly in Rua’s favor as he had a huge advantage in significant strikes (80-35) and total strikes (82-39). In a bout where there were no knockdowns, this is a clear-cut win for Rua on paper.

Going round by round doesn’t help Machida’s case much either as he was out-struck in each one, with the narrowest deficit being an 11-6 advantage in significant strikes for Rua in round five. Rua had a double-digit significant strike advantage over Machida in rounds one (19-9) and two (21-7), and in round four he won that category by a score of 10-1.

That’s right. In round four, which Hamilton scored for Machida, the champion apparently landed ONE strike in five minutes.

Even Machida’s methodical headhunting didn’t pay dividends for him as Rua won the head strike battle 15-11. Machida did the better body work, out-scoring Rua 21-16 there, but it was in the telltale leg strikes category that Rua ran away with the fight via a staggering 49-3 advantage.

What did the media say?

(Data derived from MMA Decisions)

We don’t have a lot of data to work with here as only five outlets were tallied on MMA Decisions at the time. All five scored the bout for Rua, with Sherdog’s Mike Fridley going as far as to score the fight 50-45 in favor of Shogun.

What did the people say?

Per MMA Decisions, 25.9 percent of voters agreed with the judges’ decision, scoring the fight in favor of Machida by a score of 48-47. However, that does not accurately reflect the fan opinion because a considerable majority actually scored the fight for Rua, they just couldn’t agree on how much he won by.

Of the voters who picked Rua, 24.1 percent scored it 48-47, 19.1 percent scored it 49-46, and 10.5 percent scored it 50-45. In total, that’s 53.7 percent who thought Rua won.

How did I score it?

I give four rounds to Shogun and that might be generous for Machida.

The closing flurry in round three was enough to stop me from scoring a shutout, but otherwise this was an obvious win for Rua that was even more obvious upon repeat viewings. As someone who bought into the hype of The Machida Era, I remember at the time wanting to give more credit to Machida for landing the occasional sniper shot, but they’re few and far between in this outing. He spent so much time on the backfoot, which isn’t the worst thing for him except for the fact that he couldn’t keep Shogun off of him either.

There was a lot of skill shown by both fighters in this bout. It really came down to who had the better game plan and it’s hard to imagine Shogun executing his any better.

Was it a robbery?

If the eye test, fan reaction, and Machida’s own look of disbelief didn’t tell the whole story, the stats certainly help to complete the picture. Anyone watching the fight closely could tell you that Machida was being soundly outpointed. What’s truly surprising is just how far ahead Shogun truly was in the striking department.

Neither man came close to finishing the fight and one could lazily fall back on the old “champion’s advantage” trope if one were particularly inclined to give the nod to Machida, but all the mental gymnastics in the world can’t change the fact that Rua did more than enough to beat Machida in their first meeting. He shouldn’t have had to beat him twice to become UFC champion.

The final verdict

Robbery. Big time.


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