Six years, 14 opponents, zero losses, four TKOs, two submissions, eight decisions. Within that frame work names like Bonnar, Franklin, Penn, and Ortiz litter the landscape. This is the summary of Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida's career leading into his first ever title fight with former UFC LHW champion "Suga" Rashad Evans.
Eight minutes and 57 seconds later, Machida was 15-0 with yet another TKO victory under his belt. This TKO was earned over another undefeated fighter and an UFC champion. Evans was the second straight undefeated fighter Machida had bested.
The blistering career Machida has fashioned is as flawless as it is legendary.
Quite simply his skill is on another level, a sculptor couldn't create such a fighter with even their wildest imagination; Machida is one of a kind.
Often questioned for his style by the restless MMA fan, Machida has always been effective, even if not a riveting combatant. Even in the criticism, they could not deny Machida's ability to become a dominant aggressor when necessary.
His flawless style had many questioning who, when, and how someone would challenge "The Dragon." Not unlike many champions before him, there seemed to be no light at the end of that tunnel.
It is with that in mind that many fans were shocked and awed in what was Machida's first title defense. The No. 1 contender was able to not only challenge the champion but in the eyes of some he was able to actually defeat him.
Those fans include UFC President Dana White.
Enter Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. A man with reputation from days passed that would make many a LHW fighter quiver. "Shogun" is a man who, like many Pride cross-overs, had seemingly lost a step in the transition. Everyone knew what he had done, but no one really knew what he could do moving forward.
All those doubts were laid to rest when he entered into his first UFC title match. Like a chess master he found many ways to solve the difficult and problematic equation that was Machida. That is not to argue that he did or did not win or lose that fight, but only to say he is the first ever to put Machida into a fight at this level.
Rua is the first to ever put Machida in danger, win, lose or draw.
Machida had thus far made a statement by not only destroying or defeating people but eluding their attacks in the process. He was virtually untouchable in the minds of many. "Shogun" would blow that mold to pieces with a devastating Muay Thai attack that kept the champ on his toes, or his heels in many cases, throughout their entire fight.
Many fight fans find themselves divided by the outcome of the first Machida vs Rua fight. There are those who will tell you Rua dominated Machida in the striking department. There are others who would say Rua had great striking but the strikes themselves were not devastating enough to conquer the champ.
There is a theory in place amongst combat sports fans that to beat a champion a challenger must truly beat them decisively. While a small army of MMA fans believes that happened at UFC 104, the champ managed to pull out a unanimous decision in the eyes of the experts trusted to make that decision.
Right or wrong, at this point there is no convincing those who saw the fight swing in Rua's favor that anything other than one of the biggest robberies in MMA history had taken place. Right or wrong they were equally surprised as anyone that they found themselves arguing a Rua win at the end of that match.
Right or wrong they are hopelessly waiting for Rua to do it once again.
See hind sight is always 20/20 and many will tell you they knew all along that Rua had what it took to beat Machida. Many of them very well may have believed that, but in all honesty Rua's UFC performances up to that point were anything but impressive, let's be honest.
For example his UFC debut against Forrest Griffin was a submission loss. His second UFC match was a TKO win over Mark "The Hammer" Coleman. That TKO came in the late moments of the third round against a lethargic and helpless Coleman, not even close to the Rua-esque finishes fans were used to. Then there was the "who's that latest guy to KO Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell" win that saw Rua stop Lidell in the first by TKO.
At the time Rua faced Liddell, Chuck was 1-3 in his previous four fights. Definitely not the caliber of fighter that a victory over him should earn a title shot for any reason other than name recognition. Lesser fighters have been cut for better short-term records.
All that said, anyone who knew anything about Rua from his days in Pride knew that what they were seeing in the UFC was a watered down, less-than-100-percent fighter that they had become accustomed to. It was only a matter of time before the real "Shogun" stood up.
And stand up he did, and he stood with authority. When he entered that title match with Lyoto there could not have been too many fight fans who looked at the recent track records of the two men and with that information found themselves screaming from Rua's corner that night.
Then the action came and Rua did what everyone knows he shouldn't have done. He took Lyoto deep into the waters of a championship fight and as said before challenged him unlike anyone MMA had seen thus far. He slammed his fist on the table and demanded respect through his performance against one of the most dominant fighters of our generation.
He won the respect of the MMA world in his performance, but lost the fight. He did so well, though, that the outcry of fans, and the perception of the man at the top, Dana White, was such that he was awarded an immediate rematch with "The Dragon."
That rematch takes place May 8th at UFC 113. Rua will have his chance at redemption and be allowed to prove once again why he is the man to slay "The Dragon." The question that remains now is not who, how, or why things went the way they did in the first match, the question has now become has Rua captured that lightning in a bottle?
Can Rua strike with that same thunderous clap of lightning that worked so well for him six months ago? They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Rua will look to prove them wrong this Saturday.
While Rua takes a firm hold of his bolt of lighting and takes aim at his prey he will stare down at the most elusive target he has ever drawn into his cross-hairs. He of all people knows exactly how difficult this next match will be.
Consider how perfect Rua had to be last time out, how precise and calculated he was. He did everything right and showed very few weaknesses against the champion in their prior meeting, and he still lost. He was able to do what he did by catching Machida off guard with his elite level of attack.
Rest assured that now that Rua has tipped his hand and proven just how dangerous he can be in an Octagon, and just how imposing his will can be, Machida has taken the proper notes. Machida is a chess master, make no mistake about it, and his game plan has been torn down and rebuilt all in the name of never allowing Rua that close to his belt again.
While Rua obviously has all the tools to get in Machida's face and make a fight out of it as he did before, something tells us that we will never see that Machida again. Rua should have won that first fight more decisively and put Machida on the attack to regain his belt. But he didn't, and now the champ is on the defensive.
What he did was corner "The Dragon" and threaten his throne, his flawless record, and his dominance as a fighter and as a champion. If we have learned one thing about our LHW champion it is that he will never allow the mistakes that he made to weaken his position again.
Bottom line is Rua has already been as close to that title strap as he ever will be. This weekend is academic.