The Merriam Webster Dictionary has multiple definitions for that adjective. Maybe the simplest way to define it is with two words: Lyoto Machida.
16-0 as a professional. 8-0 in the UFC. 2-0 in title fights.
Those numbers are certainly impressive, but they pale in comparison with Machida’s most remarkable fighting accomplishment. In 17 rounds of UFC competition, the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion has yet to lose a single round.
Whoa, whoa, whoa…stop right there. We need to hit the rewind button and try it again.
Those numbers are certainly impressive, but they pale in comparison with Machida’s most remarkable fighting accomplishment. Through his first seven fights, the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion did not lose a single round of competition.
Then he ran into some guy named “Shogun.”
On October 24, 2009, Machida defended his championship for the first time. His opponent on that night was former PRIDE Grand Prix champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
The judges unanimously scored the fight 48-47 in favor of the champion to extend his perfect professional record, though the result placed the first blemish on Machida’s perfect round record, which now stands at 20-2.
For the record, I scored the fight 49-46 for Shogun, giving Machida the third round by the slimmest of margins and Shogun the other four. The vocal MMA majority also scored the fight in favor or the challenger.
The result sparked some of the most heated Internet debate that we’ve seen in years regarding a judges’ decision. The fact remains, though, that the fight was an extreme chess match, with both fighters largely just throwing single shots or two-strike combinations at precisely calculated moments.
The notable exception was the one wild exchange with 36 seconds left in the third round. Machida pressed with a ferocious attack that forced Shogun to the cage. Machida landed a beautiful straight right and followed up with about a dozen strikes, though only one or two really landed. Shogun countered with a right hand on the button that immediately stopped Machida in his tracks. It was the best strike of the round, one that prevented Machida from attacking recklessly again.
For the rest of the fight, the pair resumed the high-level chess match. The attacks, particularly in the second half of the fight, were dominated by Shogun’s isolated kicks to the body and legs—kicks that left the champion purple with bruising and limping badly.
After their five round contest, Shogun knows with certainty that Machida is not perfect. He knows that he can defeat the champion. He also knows that he must be a little more aggressive and search for an opportunity to end the fight inside the distance if he wants to avoid rolling the dice with the judges for a second time.
That may seem a bit counterintuitive because Machida is an expert counterstriker. Most expert counterstrikers, Machida included, need a sense of order and calm in order to execute. If overwhelmed with an all-out assault that was not telegraphed, virtually everyone will react to such chaos with chaos.
Shogun never really put Machida in that situation during the first fight. He needs to do that this time around because he is the much more comfortable of the two during chaos. Why? Growing up as a member of the vaunted old school Chute Boxe Academy fight team, which was legendary for its full-speed sparring sessions where guys like Wanderlei Silva and Anderson Silva set the tone, Shogun is as comfortable during chaotic exchanges as he is sitting down and eating a steak at his dining room table.
What makes Shogun so dangerous is that he is equally comfortable during those moments as he is during tactical exchanges. He proved that much in the first fight. In other words, he is a fighter to his core—a modern day gladiator who was born to test himself in hand-to-hand combat.
Machida, by contrast, is an elite tactician. He is a cerebral athlete who fights for the pure sport of it. This is athletic competition to him, no different than tossing a ball through a 10-foot high hoop is athletic competition for LeBron James. Machida grew up a martial artist. He is about perfection. He is about the purity of the art, a purity that is achieved during orderly exchanges. He is not a brawler. He doesn’t thrive during chaos, unlike Shogun.
Machida’s success is largely due to his exceptional quickness and his awkward fighting style. He stands almost sideways, in a traditional Karate stance, with his weight well back of his center point and his upper body noticeably leaning back. That is all designed to make him difficult to hit, not so much to place him in the proper position from which to attack.
The champion can get away with fighting from that position because he uses quick jab steps and sudden shoulder movements to feint an attack, which set up his strikes. Those feints put his opponent on the defensive because he is thinking about defending an incoming strike, rather than attacking. From there, the champion will throw the occasional lead high kick on the end of one of those jab steps or he may sprint in briefly with piston-like punches. Neither is overly dangerous—neither is meant to be, either.
All of that is designed to accomplish two goals: set up his bread and butter attack, which is leading with a kick to the body followed immediately by a short straight left, and force his opponent into tentative one-strike attacks that he can counter. Machida caught Rashad Evans with that kick-punch combination late in the first round and dropped him. It wasn’t the force of the blow that led to the knockdown, rather the fact that Evans’ attention was wholly focused on defending the kick to the body.
The best way to avoid eating that left hand is to put Machida on the defensive with lead kicks to the body. Machida’s southpaw stance leaves him very vulnerable to kicks to the body. His elusiveness may make him difficult to punch in the chops, but moving his entire body out of the way of an incoming shin is a whole different problem, one that he couldn’t solve against Shogun in their first fight.
Another way to avoid eating the lead left is to step in, though outside of Machida’s right foot, with a right hand down the middle as soon as Machida lifts his back leg to throw a kick off of his jab step. By stepping in with a right hand, Shogun will close the distance, effectively neutralizing the body kick or high kick, if the champion is mixing it up. Evans did that once late in the first round and it led to a tie-up, something Shogun, with his savage Muay Thai skills, would welcome with open arms.
Heading into the first fight, I wrote that Shogun must not sit back and allow Machida to set the pace of the fight. He cannot allow the champion to dictate his action with feints. That obviously isn’t the case. He allowed Machida to attack early on and brilliantly countered those attacks, often countering at the first movement of an attack, which left the champion dumbfounded and unable to actually launch the intended attack.
Nonetheless, I still believe that Shogun needs to fly out of his corner like he did against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in their PRIDE bout and attack with something crazy—a flying knee, a blitz of punches, whatever. Machida will be ready for Shogun to counter and may sit back and force the challenger to push the pace this time around. He has undoubtedly trained extensively to defend Shogun’s kicks, so the former PRIDE star needs to do something different this time around. Reverting back to his berserker ways is the answer.
Machida is a defense-first fighter. If the attack is at all tentative, he will stand his ground and counter with deadly effectiveness.
Shogun cannot completely throw caution to the wind during those attacks because Machida might be the most underrated puncher in the sport. His knockout wins over Thiago Silva and Evans demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has real pop in those hands. But again, he is not a slugger. His power comes from perfect technique and timing. Perfect timing and technique, though, fly out the window during chaos.
The first time around, I picked Machida as the winner in the weeks heading into the fight. I obviously believe that I got it wrong and to this day maintain that Shogun deserved the decision. I’m a big believer that guys who lose close fights perform better the second time around. I cannot point to why. It is just a personal belief, one that I am sticking to heading into this matchup.
I’m picking Shogun to win the championship this time around. And I’m picking him to win by knockout.
• 31 years old
• 6’1, 205 lbs
• 74-inch reach
• 16-0 professional record (8-0 UFC)
• 2-0 in championship fights
• 5-0 against current or former UFC champions and PRIDE Grand Prix winners (UD5 over Mauricio Rua on October 24, 2009; KO2 over Rashad Evans on May 23, 2009; UD3 over Tito Ortiz on May 24, 2008; UD3 over BJ Penn on March 26, 2005; and KO2 over Rich Franklin on December 31, 2003)
• Knockout of the Night in back-to-back fights (KO1 over Thiago Silva on January 31, 2009; and KO2 over Rashad Evans on May 23, 2009)
• Current layoff is 196 days (UD5 over Mauricio Rua on October 24, 2009)
• Longest UFC layoff is 252 days (UD3 over Tito Ortiz on May 24, 2008, until KO1 over Thiago Silva on January 31, 2009)
• Currently tied with Jon Fitch and Royce Gracie for 2nd all time with 8 consecutive wins inside the Octagon (Anderson Silva holds the record with 11)
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
• 28 years old
• 6’1, 205 lbs
• 76-inch reach
• 18-4 professional record (12-1 PRIDE, 2-2 UFC)
• 3-2 in last 5 fights
• 7-3 in last 10 fights
• 0-1 in championship fights (4-0 in Grand Prix fights)
• 4-3 against current or former UFC champions (UD5 loss to Lyoto Machida on October 24, 2009; KO1 over Chuck Liddell on April 18, 2009; TKO3 over Mark Coleman January 17, 2009; SUB3 loss to Forrest Griffin on September 22, 2007; SUB1 over Kevin Randleman on October 21, 2006; TKO1 loss to Mark Coleman February 26, 2006; and TKO1 over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on April 23, 2005)
• Knockout of the Night (KO1 over Chuck Liddell on April 18, 2009)
• Fight of the Night (TKO3 over Mark Coleman on January 17, 2009)
• Current layoff is 196 days (UD5 loss to Lyoto Machida on October 24, 2009)
• Longest UFC or PRIDE layoff is 483 days (SUB3 loss to Forrest Griffin on September 22, 2007; until TKO3 over Mark Coleman on January 17, 2009)