by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe
Cain Velasquez didn’t, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua did and the two men left Los Angeles with very different results but one thing in common…a much larger legion of fans.
Coming into UFC 104, no one was questioning the incredible fighting ability and skill set of Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida. Joe Rogan’s famous words, “Welcome to the Machida era” echoed on the promos for last night’s event and he was somewhere in the top five of most pound-for-pound lists. The Machida era almost ended in five months and, in the opinions of most, it should have. I agree.
The fight was a very technical, strategic battle with a number of particularly close rounds. While the rounds could have gone either way, I gave the first to Machida and the second to Rua. After that, it seemed pretty clear from my view that Machida took the third round while Shogun took rounds four and five. Overall, Shogun was the aggressor throughout the fight, landed more total shots and the more quality blows as well. He clearly did more damage to the previously unhittable champion, scoring repeatedly with heavy kicks to his ribs and legs that left him visibly bruised while Shogun showed much less wear for the 25 minutes they spent in the cage.
Generally, Machida showed little aggression in this fight outside of one flurry that won him the third round. There was never a sense of urgency, even though the rounds were razor thin. This looked more like the early UFC version of Lyoto who was widely criticized for being a bit too content to outpoint opponents rather than the one who attacked Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans like lightening as soon as there was an opening.
Just as Lyoto looked like a prior version of himself, so did Shogun, which is a good thing. I’m not ready to say this was 100% of the Pride version of Shogun, but it was pretty damn close and the best he’s been in the cage, by far. His kicks were the difference in the fight and he patiently chose when to be aggressive. Should he have gone after it more at the end of the rounds to score with the judges? They both should have, so no advantage to Lyoto there. The questions about the lack of cardio he displayed in the Coleman fight were initially answered when his resting heart rate was the lowest of any fighter on the card during medicals (42 beats per minute) and definitely answered in the championship rounds where he looked like the fresher fighter.
This fight is exactly why I hate the ten point must system for MMA. Under Pride rules of each judge picking one fighter as a winner for the entire fight rather than a round by round scoring system, I firmly believe that the judges would have seen the fight for Rua, just like Dana White and the overwhelming majority of fans and MMA media did. But when you force judges to pick a winner of each five-minute stanza, things like this are more likely to happen.
The good news? Dana White has already said that Shogun will get a well-deserved, immediate rematch. The bad news? The judges will probably be using that same misplaced scoring system.
Cain Velasquez rendered the scoring system wholly irrelevant by completely annihilating Ben Rothwell. He absolutely manhandled Rothwell and was nothing short of relentless from start to finish. Cain tossed the 265-pound Rothwell around at will and inflicted enough punishment to end the fight, even if referee Steve Mazzagatti chose the wrong time to do so.
I was one of those who needed to see more after Cain beat Cheick Kongo at UFC 99. While others praised his ability to recover after a big shot and take Kongo down, I saw it more that he was consistently floored and benefited from a 240-pound opponent with weak, OK, no, takedown defense. I also questioned his ability to finish as I watched him in dominant positions for 13 minutes of a 15 minute fight and pound his opponent 250 times and not get the stoppage. It wasn’t that I didn’t see his potential…it was just too early for me to anoint him into the upper tier of the division.
He’s there now.
Much like Kenny Florian’s schooling of Joe Stevenson at UFC 91 made me want to see him fight BJ Penn, this performance made me want to see Cain fight the winner of Lesnar-Carwin next month. And that’s exactly what he asked for at the post-fight press conference. The smart money says he gets it, and deservedly so.