Machida-Shogun: Wait, Aren't We Missing Something?
In the dust still settling from UFC 104, a re-evaluation of judging in MMA seems to be rearing its head again. Joe Rogan set his criticism against Judge Cecil Peoples in particular (though twitter is a pretty short medium to describe why he didn't criticize Marcos Rosales, who scored the rounds the exact same way). In the furor, Cecil Peoples even came out to defend the judges' decision.
I can't say I completely disagreed with Rogan. At the end of the 25-minutes battle, I was one of many observers surprised to see Machida's arms raised. From my PPV-seating, it had looked to me as if Rua pushed the fight for all five rounds, most significantly with a high-volume of leg kicks. Rua echoed this in his post-fight interview:
"I feel like I won this fight. Lyoto is great fighter. I did 1,000 kicks per day [in training camp]. That was part of the main strategy."
Based on the auditory similarities between several of Rua's numerous kicks and a baseball smacking wet hamburger meat, I could surely believe it. But a few hours after the fight something about the statement started to trouble me. What did he mean by "part" of the strategy?
Remembering Rua's body kicks, it came as no surprise that, according to Fightmetric , Rua landed 16 attacks to the body. What was surprising is that Machida landed 24 body attacks. It makes more sense if you remember these metrics include knees and punches as well as kicks, which Machida landed in greater numbers than Rua. But the real tale of what went on in the Octagon is the astounding 48 leg kicks Rua landed of 68 attempts.
At first glance such a strategy makes sense. Machida has a reputation for being elusive, so why not hurt his mobility? Some are even calling it a brilliant strategy (even though it's Muay Thai 101) and executed perfectly against the enigma Machida. The problem is that in Rua's own words it was only "part of the strategy."
Upon reflection, this also makes sense—When was the last time you heard of a fighter coming to a fight thinking, "I'm going to kick this guy over and over again in the leg, and that's going to win me the fight."
Rua is by far too smart for that nonsense, so what was the other part of the strategy? It is possible that the idea was to knock Machida out later on down the road, and Shogun stated pre-fight he was looking for the knockout. This would be supported by the fact Rua landed seven of his 17 head-strikes in the last round of a five-round war. Unfortunately for Shogun, the knockout never materialized.
But I don't think Rua would have left the fate up to a standing knockout, where Machida has yet to be knocked down let alone out. I think it's much more likely the plan was to cut down Machida's legs and then take him to the ground, just the place many speculated Rua would have to put the fight in order to leave victorious.
If this was the case, ring control gets turned on its head. Though Machida frequently absorbed some knees while pinned against the cage, the nine takedowns Machida stuffed would mean Machida dictated where the fight took place and puts Octagon control in Machida's hands for at least rounds one, two and three.
From this perspective Machida seems to be effectively neutralizing Shogun's game-plan and Judge Peoples statement that Rua didn't show "effective aggressiveness" makes more sense. Given this, I can't help but wonder if Shogun would've fared better on the scorecards if he'd just foregone takedown attempts altogether.
It seemed like a viable strategy but without its complimentary pieces it never fully neutralized Machida. In the end it may have even cost Rua the decision. If and when the rematch occurs, unless Shogun thinks he can get the job done faster or better, it might be wise to push a different angle against the as-yet unsolved Machida enigma.
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