“Effective aggression” is in the rulebook and used as judgment criteria, but you have to go with your gut sometimes on the question of who’s making the fight. Which guy wants to be in there more?
Right or Robbed?
Lyoto Machida is a nightmare opponent— southpaw, elusive, and a patient counterstriker with impeccable timing and fantastic defense. That’s not a combination that gets anybody excited to fight him. Moreover, in his last few bouts, Machida has changed from a cautious, defensive fighter to a lightning bolt of destruction, picking his moments to drop down from a clear blue sky.
I personally didn’t think much of Mauricio Rua’s chances, but in the first round, Shogun did something truly impressive. He fought the most disciplined, careful fight of his life. And he kept it up, fi hting Machida maybe the only way there is: ugly (I remember asking Greg Jackson about preparing Rashad Evans for Machida, and Jackson just grinned and said, “Get ready for the most boring fight ever!”)
This fight wasn’t too boring. It had some tension. CompuStrike had Shogun ahead 89–50 in strikes landed (although this seems definitive, it was a close-ass fight). Shogun attempted three takedowns, but they were all stuffed. Sure, you’ve got to take the title from the champ, but Shogun—especially in the later rounds—was making that fight happen. It’s possible that if Shogun had done much else, he’d have been knocked out. Machida, like Chuck Liddell, lives for guys who chase him.
To his certainly wasn’t the old Shogun, who could explode on anybody and tear through top-tier fighters as if they were made of tissue paper. It hurt just to watch those thudding knees. Here was a new, savvy Shogun, cold and calculating—even manipulative. Like the old-school Muay Thai guys who make a point of showing how they’re not hurt after a punch or kick, Shogun would back away and shake out his arms, as if to say, “I’m in control.” And maybe that was the real story: Shogun controlled a little more of the fight. Not much, but a little.
Make the Fight, Break the Bank
When Lyoto Machida definitively beat Evans (a light-heavy with the speed to catch him, or so I thought), I looked at my 10-month-old son, raised my eyebrows and said, “That dude will be champ for 100 years.” But Shogun not only revealed Machida to be human, he resuscitated his own viability as an elite fighter, which was almost as good as winning the title. As for the decision, I’ve seen worse. It was not some shocking, horrible robbery. This was a very close fight, every round was close.
We all better get used to decisions like this. Big title fights have too much on the line these days for fighters to just let it all hang out and see what happens. Winning or losing changes lives forever, so the consequences have to affect strategy.
MMA has evolved, and top-tier fighters aren’t always going to be looking to finish each other, because sometimes the best they can do is eke out a win. Those small gloves are dangerous. One clean shot can change the fight, and one fight can change a life. Decisions in title fights are going to become the norm. And so, as the judging of these decisions becomes more nuanced, you’ve got to reward the guy making the fight.
Josh Neer makes fights. There were clear examples of this in Neer’s last two bouts. Now, I’ve met Neer, and I like how he fights. I’ll admit, I am biased toward him. However, I honestly think that it was Neer who made those fights. He kept coming, looking to finish, looking to fight. Neer wanted to get down.
His opponent at UFC 101, Kurt Pellegrino, was in a must-win situation, and he did so in front of his hometown crowd. But while Pellegrino took Neer down with ease, I never saw him look to improve his position from the top or attempt submissions. He scraped away at Neer, content to stay in guard and avoid Neer’s submission game. Isn’t that the definition of “lay-n-pray”? There’s nothing worse than when the guy on the bottom actually hurts his chances by looking for submissions, because now the fight is active, while if he just held on and stalled, the ref would probably stand them up.
Neer’s opponent at UFC 104, Gleison Tibau, did the same thing, albeit with a little more emphasis— some spectacular slams—and at least one submission attempt. I don’t hold anything against those guys—they did what they had to do to win. But maybe scoring takedowns with no damage shouldn’t be so highly rewarded in the judging system. Neer has been let go by the UFC, so those defeats end up being extremely costly.