One phenomenon I will never understand in sports journalism is the strange need for large swaths of its foremost practitioners to force-feed particular stories down the masses' throats. Even more bizarre is the frequency with which these angles make zero common sense.
In Major League Baseball, the national media decided the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen would be the deciding factor before the SoCal squad faced the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. That proved...wrong.
Currently, the same outlets are trying to convince the baseball world the New York Yankees should be pressing , despite having two games at home while needing only a single win to christen the New Yankee Stadium with an American League pennant.
Not to mention the large shadow of CC Sabathia looming on the horizon.
Witness the coverage of the potentially epic clash between challenger Mauricio Rua and Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104.
Admittedly, neither network throws its back into supporting Shogun as vigorously as both were (or are) pimping the Bums' 'pen or the Bombers' sudden pressure-cooker. The print of the ESPN link actual picks the Dragon to win via technical knockout notwithstanding the video clip's lustful discussion of Rua.
Nevertheless, both come at the fight from a challenger-heavy perspective—hyping Shogun Rua's glory days with PRIDE Fighting Championship along with his most recent pummeling of Chuck Liddell. They justifiably emphasize the 27-year-old Brazilian's relentlessly aggressive style and vicious athleticism—two things on full display when he dismantled Quinton Jackson four years ago.
What they don't mention is that Machida's style couldn't be a starker contrast next to Rampage's "chin down and step forward" approach if it were the 31-year-old Brazilian's intention to make it so.
In other words, Rua's most impressive win—unless you prefer the TKO over an Iceman in a state of total meltdown or either of a pair of Alistair Overeem stoppages—is almost irrelevant given Rampage's obsession with toe-to-toe banging and the Dragon's opposing obsession with elusiveness.
How about some objectivity?
Machida is the undefeated, first-time defending champion.
He's fresh off his most impressive victory to date—a thorough whomping of then-Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans—and has recorded consecutive Knockout of the Night honors. The previous stunning KO came against then-undefeated Thiago Silva at UFC 94.
Most importantly, his slippery karate-based amalgamation of fighting expertise has proven as devastating as Anderson Silva's surgical strikes, Fedor Emelianenko's merciless stoicism, Georges St. Pierre's attention to detail, B.J. Penn's chimpanzee-like dexterity with all limbs, and Brock Lesnar's sheer strength.
Saturday night's title defense will arguably be the toughest battle of the older Brazilian's ongoing career. It's no lie to say Shogun Rua poses a very sincere, extremely dangerous threat to the Dragon's brief reign atop the UFC's deepest weight class.
But Machida has been up to the task against Evans, Thiago Silva, Tito Ortiz, Penn, Rich Franklin, and Stephan Bonnar (one of the men starring into ESPN's cameras in the clip). None of the above qualifies as Earth-shattering, but that's still an impressive list of the vanquished.
So why all the love for Mauricio Rua?
Because the suits know he represents what the casual fight fan LOVES—a guy who comes out in a flurry of fists, elbows, kicks, and knees. Furthermore, the man is an athletic marvel; there is certainly no doubt about that. Even coming off two major knee surgeries, this is an extraordinarily large hombre who moves with fluid ease belying his true size.
The violence is effortless and profound when accurate (can you tell I'm a fan?). Shogun's star potential has always been even higher than his fight potential.
However, Mauricio Rua cannot be the favorite. Much as I'd love to see him win and realize both terrifying sets of promise.
As Sherdog's Jake Rossen observed, whoever eventually beats the Dragon will have to be as much devoted to an as-yet-undiscovered game plan as to his bloodlust—Machida's apparently insolvable counterattacking style demands a slavish adherence to strategy as much as it does the ability to inflict damage.
Strategy, ladies and gentlemen, has never been Shogun's strongest suit.
Unless the scheme calls for semi-reckless abandon, then it's probably his weakest asset (if you can call it an asset).
In all athletic fora—baseball stadiums as much as MMA arenas—anything can happen. The Dodger bullpen might've been the key to an NL pennant (it wasn't), the Yankees might succumb to the mounting pressure (they won't), and Shogun Rua might take the belt from the Dragon (by far the most probable, but I wouldn't bet on it).
The unpredictability is part of what makes sports so magnetic.
So we might very well see a new Light Heavyweight Champion crowned—as I've said, Mauricio Rua is very dangerous.
But so is Lyoto Machida.
And the more the pundits ignore him in favor of his opponent, the more dangerous he gets.