Machida Vs. Rua: A Close Fight, Judging Criteria Explains Why

Leon Horne@@Leon_HorneAnalyst IOctober 31, 2009


Last weekend’s main event at UFC 104 made armed bank robbery look like a petty crime, well at least to many die-hard and casual fight fans alike.

Three mixed martial arts judges, one of whom goes by the name of Cecil Peoples, felt that the Rua leg kicks and clinch knees aside Lyoto Machida beat Mauricio Rua unanimously. 

Many fans are livid. In fact UFC commentator Joe Rogan was so shocked he coined a follow up to his “Machida Era” line to now being the “Machida Error”.

After sitting back and watching the fight again the fight looked a lot closer then fans make it out to be. A lot of Rua's leg kicks that looked like they landed were actually blocked or missed upon slowing down and rewinding the film.

These blocks and misses are something the ring side judges were able to see well in real time.

What the fans may have misinterpreted is in fact a tribute to the high speed at which Rua was throwing his leg kicks and Machida’s incredible elusiveness as a fighter. had Mauricio Rua landing twice as many strikes as Lyoto Machida. Unfortunately, fight statistics don’t tell the whole story of an MMA fight that goes to the judges.

In order to understand some of the reasons why Machida vs. Rua was so close and why Machida was awarded a unanimous decision one has to consult “The Unified Rules for Mixed Martial Arts ”.

I’ll admit I was not aware of all the details and nuances of MMA judging criteria and I will wager that most of the fans screaming “bloody Mary” after the decision don’t know them either.

I figured this would be a good time to read up on the MMA Judging Criteria.

First of all a fight is judged round by round by three judges, the winner of a round is awarded 10 points and the loser is awarded 9 points or less. If the judge feels the round was a stalemate, each fighter gets 10 points awarded.

Due to the fact that a fight is judged round by round, a judge cannot watch further rounds and then re-score earlier rounds after.

Case in point, Rua landed knees and kicks to the legs of Machida in the first two rounds. Machida never looked badly hurt in rounds one or two and arguably three. In rounds four and five Machida looked slowed down by the kicks to the legs and he looked tired.

However, the three judges can’t watch the fourth and fifth rounds and think that theRua leg kicks and knees in earlier rounds seem to have done more damage then appeared at first, let’s go change the scores in the earlier rounds.

MMA judging criteria simply does not allow for that.

Now what exactly is an MMA bout judgement based on exactly?

A fight is judged based on effective striking, effective grappling, octagon or ring control, effective aggressiveness and defence, the weight attached to each area gets lower as we go down the list from effective striking to defence.

Obviously as stated in the rules, if a fight takes place on the canvas most of the time, then effective grappling becomes more important then effective striking. This was not the case in Machida vs. Rua seeing as how the fight was fought standing up in its entirety.

Effective striking means the fighter who lands more heavy strikes. Rua landed more strikes, but were they necessarily heavier then Machida’s strikes? In rounds one to three I would argue no.

Rua lost his footing a total of three times after Machida landed strikes and combos in rounds one to three. Machida on the other hand does not stumble or look phased after any of Rua’s attacks in rounds one to three.

Rua also slid into failed take down attempts to try and avoid further damage from knees to the body thrown by Machida.

Machida never backpedalled uncontrollably in to the cage or shot for take downs after Rua strikes landed in rounds one to three.

In rounds one to three Machida arguably landed more heavy strikes then Rua and Rua landed more strikes overall.

This situation makes the rounds very difficult to judge and without knowing what unfolded in rounds four and five it is easy to see how a judge could have given the striking advantage to Machida in rounds one to three.

In rounds four and five, Rua lands more strikes with more power then Machida, but being given two rounds out of five no matter how lopsided they are will not win you the fight.

There was no ground game in this fight so effective grappling did not really play a factor in this fight.

Next up is probably the most argued point in the fight, Octagon control.

Fans who felt Rua deserved the fight argue that he pushed the pace and maintained control of the octagon. Please read the following definition of octagon control.

“Fighting area control is judged by determining who is dictating the pace, location and position of the bout. Examples of factors to consider are countering a grappler’s attempt at take down by remaining standing and legally striking; taking down an opponent to force a ground fight; creating threatening submission attempts, passing the guard to achieve mount, and creating striking opportunities. 

This is where I would argue that Rua and his corner were not aware of what Octagon control is defined by in the judging criteria. Why you may ask?

Rua attempted and failed at nine take downs. After three failed take down attempts anyone with common sense would expect a fighter to abandon the take down and keep it standing. Unless the fighter felt getting their opponent to the ground was an important key to victory.

What Rua effectively showed the judges by attempting and failing nine take downs was that he desperately wanted to get the fight to the ground, but he could not get it there.

The argument that take down attempts show that the fighter is being active and trying to control the octagon isn’t anywhere in the judging criteria, many people are under the guise that it is.

Judges have to follow the criteria when judging a fight; they can’t make up new rules or criteria on the fly.

On the flip side, Lyoto Machida stuffed nine of nine take down attempt by Rua. Telling the judges he didn’t want any part of the ground game that his opponent appeared to have desperately wanted.

Machida not attempting any take downs enforced the fact that he is a striker who wants to stay on his feet.

Rua landed effective leg kicks no doubt, that is where the majority of his strikes landed.

That being said, after landing an effective leg attack on Machida, Rua would often back out and not follow up with a striking combos. Rua was showing a lot of respect for Lyoto’s counter striking abilities. 

Lyoto on the other hand would follow up his heavy strikes or counter strikes with striking combos that would stumble or back up his opponent, particularly in rounds 1-3.

Is it really that shocking that maybe the judges gave octagon control to Lyoto Machida? After reading the judging criteria, I would say that at the very least it isn't a log shot.

Mauricio Rua, his corner men and any other mixed martial artist should know that failed take down attempts fended off by your opponent aren’t going to help you in the scoring of a fight.

After three, maybe four failed take down attempts, Rua and his corner men should have realised that these failures were hurting octagon control as oppose to aiding it and stopped the attempts.

I would argue that a few of those failed take down attempts were after Rua took damage from Machida, particularly knees to the body.

Although it is a good technique to avoid damage, in order to score points with the judges according to the criteria they abide by Rua had to make those take down attempts count.

As far as effective aggressiveness goes, the fighter that moves forward and lands strikes without getting hit is being effective. Moving forward and landing a lot of strikes while taking a lot of strikes is not effective.

The fighters in rounds one to three were very close to one another, Machida moved forward and landed a lot and he countered a lot of Rua’s kicks with his left hand. Rua on the other hand landed a lot of effective leg kicks and moved forward himself as well.

As far as defence goes, both fighters were defending well as evidenced by the fact that neither fighter was finished. Machida was hit more, but his elusiveness turned a lot of potential heavy strikes into weak ones and he defended nine take downs.

Rua avoided damage by attacking and backing out, he also avoided potential knockout blows by limiting himself to throwing kicks as oppose to hands. Rua had a very good game plan against Machida.

Of course this fight was very close and with the way rounds four and five went, it is very difficult to accept the fact that Machida was awarded the victory.

However, if one watches the fight a few times and actually pays attention to the unified judging criteria, one can definitely appreciate the fact that the fight was much closer then first observed.

Rua’s game plan was the right one to beat Machida, but two things cost him this fight. His corner men telling him he was winning the fight at the end of round 3 and continuing take down attempts that never saw fruition.

The result wasn’t as wrong as people may have thought and I think a rematch is most definitely required. I along with all the other MMA fans out there are looking forward to watching the Karate master and the Muay Thai specialist go at it again. 


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