The Beauty of Subjectivity: Machida Still the Champ Even if Shogun Really Won
If you happen to know a fan of mixed martial arts and want a laugh, approach said fan and remark as to how flawlessly the judges performed their jobs during the Mauricio Rua–Lyoto Machida title bout at UFC 104 on Saturday night. Just make sure you launch the verbal jab from a safe distance.
The reaction will range from tepid anger to explosive outrage manifested by violent gesticulation.
Most of the mild discontent will probably come from Machida fans—the unanimous decision that kept the UFC light heavyweight championship belt around the Dragon's waist was that unpopular.
I'm on the record as developing a non-sexual male crush on the Brazilian champ. However, the log also includes shameful entries revealing the same in tribute to Shogun from his PRIDE Fighting Championships days. So I think I'm entitled to claiming objectivity on this one.
Mauricio Rua appeared to win the first salvo of an epic and looming war.
Barring (Fight Gods forbid) a serious injury to either gladiator, MMA fans could be watching the next classic rivalry in its earliest stages. The two elite Brazilian competitors might be lining themselves up with Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock, the Gracie Family vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Quinton Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes vs. Georges St-Pierre, and any other clashes for the ages I've forgotten.
That fact alone prevents me from getting too bent out of shape over the so-called injustice.
For me, the most telling sign was the apparent surprise and relief on Lyoto Machida's face when his hand was raised. That didn't look like a man who thought he'd successfully defended his title. If the fighter himself doesn't think he won a toss-up, I find it pretty condemning.
In all honesty, you can't tell me anyone else has more persuasive evidence to support this vehement conviction that the younger Brazilian fighter got robbed. Which is further reason to tone down all the rhetoric surrounding the "controversy."
As for the Cumulative Kick Argument—that Rua landed a battering barrage of strikes to Machida's lower body and, to a lesser degree, torso—there is no disputing it. Anyone watching the battle saw Shogun sniping away with powerful, accurate strikes to the Dragon's lower body.
Less frequently, one would slap into Machida's ribs.
Furthermore, although Bleacher Report scribe Darren Wong got it right when he called out Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg for being absurdly pro-Shogun in their commentary, the duo nailed some observations. For one, the pair appropriately pointed to an absence of the Dragon's signature footwork as proof the lower body work done by Rua was taking its toll.
The karate-based champ certainly didn't show the same light and volatile movement that served him so well on previous occasions.
So the kicks were having the desired effect, but is that really enough reason for a championship title to change hands?
Again, I'm not disputing the blows were landing nor that they were powerful. Machida was clearly showing their ill-effects as the fight wore on. Nonetheless, Rua never turned that advantage into anything other than more of the same. He never seemed to have Lyoto seriously wobbled or in extreme danger—you could argue Shogun never put his adversary in real danger, period.
It seemed like the Dragon was losing the fight, but it never seemed like Lyoto Machida was about to lose the fight. This wasn't Mirko Filipovic rocking Hidehiko Yoshida, eventually registering a technical knockout via leg kicks.
Mauricio Rua, though effective, wasn't even approaching that kind of devastation.
As I understand it, the officials rate the two participants on a variety of things with no explicit system of awarding points—just some ethereal combination of relevant ingredients like aggression, submission attempts, strikes landed, damage done, and so on left to the individual's discretion.
In other words, simply arguing that Shogun landed more strikes with more power while being the aggressor doesn't necessarily equal a decisive victory. Even if that very recipe worked on previous occasion because each fight is unique—warriors come in different sizes with different capacities for punishment and absorption of the same.
Pain is not uniform.
The rules dictating the winner (should it be left to the judges) seem to reflect this tenet, for better or worse.
One last time—I do think Mauricio Rua won the fight, but I can see why he lost.
I can appreciate the logic in demanding more from a challenger than a safe gameplan executed perfectly that put the champion in no immediate danger, but wore him down considerably.
As dumb as that looks in print, it makes sense in the arena.
If you want your championship bouts to be the most heated affairs, you want at least one antagonist hell-bent for leather when he steps into the cage. You don't want both sides tentative so the reasonable solution is to put an obvious onus on one or the other.
We can all agree, it's been placed on the challenger.
That's not entirely fair because it gives a significant advantage to the title-holder.
It allows the king of the hill to adopt a suffocatingly defensive posture and take few risks without genuine threat of defeat via decision. Of course, those are not the virtues of a true champion—chances are a fighter open to such a strategy would never ascend the weight class mountain in the first place. If he did, his stay atop the heap wouldn't be long.
Therefore, the inequity makes good sense for the sport—reward the incumbent while inspiring action and drama.
In a perfectly equitable world, Rua would be the light heavyweight champion today because he seemed to score more points under the traditional interpretation of a subjective scoring system.
In reality, it seems the judges rewarded Machida for entering as the champion, calmly surviving, and doing so without ever flirting with unconsciousness. Oh well.
Life is unfair and, ultimately, that might be exactly the arrangement we want.
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