On a night filled with lopsided matchups, three cageside judges added some spice to an otherwise average event.
A controversial unanimous decision awarded to light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida cost Mauricio “Shogun” Rua the second major title of his career at UFC 104 “Machida vs. Shogun” on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Fortunately, the UFC has already made the logical decision and appointed an immediate rematch between the two Brazilians.
Analysis follows for a show that left the mixed martial arts world with as many questions as answers.
Anthony Johnson def. Yoshiyuki Yoshida -- TKO (Punches) 0:41 R1
What happened: Yoshida, the 2007 Cage Force welterweight tournament winner, was sent to slaughter for the second time in three fights, as he took on an opponent who might have outweighed him by more than 30 pounds. The Japanese judoka’s loss highlights the danger of the eastern philosophy of fighting at one’s regular weight and focusing on endurance, as opposed to the western philosophy of cutting as much weight as possible to gain a size and strength advantage.
Forecast for Johnson: His blowout win was bittersweet, as “Rumble” missed weight by a whopping six pounds. When Thiago Alves missed weight by four pounds and beat Matt Hughes in 2008, he was rewarded with a title eliminator. Johnson, just three years into his professional career, may next be presented an opponent like Jake Ellenberger, Dong Hyun Kim or the winner of the Ben Saunders vs. Marcus Davis matchup at UFC 106.
Forecast for Yoshida: The 35-year-old faces the danger of being cut from the promotion with another loss. After bravely accepting fights with divisional top dogs Josh Koscheck and Johnson, he should be awarded a fight against somebody like Brad Blackburn, Kevin Burns or John Howard.
Joe Stevenson def. Spencer Fisher -- Submission (Elbows) 4:03 R2
What happened: Fisher showed he was the superior striker early and displayed some good takedown defense, as well, but he was cut above the eye only 90 seconds into the bout. In the second round, Stevenson eventually took down Fisher and worked ground-and-pound from half guard. “Daddy” then passed to side control, trapped Fisher’s arm and finished the fight with several vicious elbow strikes. Fisher tapped out with his foot.
Forecast for Stevenson: The former King of the Cage welterweight champion and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 2 winner looks vastly improved since joining Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M. The 27-year-old grappler won a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz in his first bout under Jackson and handed the seasoned Fisher his first career submission loss at UFC 104. Frankie Edgar, provided he makes it past Kurt Pellegrino in December, Tyson Griffin or Clay Guida could serve as compelling matchups for Stevenson.
Forecast for Fisher: The 33-year-old Iowan needs opponents who are willing to engage in stand-up exchanges in order to show his true value to the promotion. Fights against Edgar, Stevenson and Caol Uno have proven as much. Put Fisher in there with someone like Robert Emerson, Terry Etim or Melvin Guillard, and count on an exciting fight.
What happened: Sonnen put the inconvenient Tokyoite through a wrestling clinic and outworked him for 15 minutes. The former light heavyweight enjoyed a spirited and courageous performance in which he did everything but finish Okami. Constant pressure and solid control were keys for the 32-year-old Oregonian in this bout. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva owes Sonnen dinner for clearing away the unwelcome Japanese submission fighter from the middleweight title picture.
Forecast for Sonnen: In what was without a doubt his strongest performance in the Octagon and possibly the best showing of his eight-year career, Sonnen upset the previously third-ranked Okami and legitimized his place as a top 10 middleweight. With 35 professional bouts under his belt, it only makes sense for the Team Quest standout to fight other contenders now. Yoshihiro Akiyama, Patrick Cote and Rousimar Palhares are all names worth mentioning.
Forecast for Okami: It became evident that UFC brass was not particularly high on having Okami compete for the promotion, as more than nine months had passed between each of his last two bouts. The Japanese grappler was tough to promote, because of a lack of charisma and name recognition, along with a methodical fight style that resulted in six out of his nine UFC bouts going the distance. It would not come as a complete surprise if the UFC cuts ties to Okami after this loss.
Gleison Tibau def. Josh Neer -- Unanimous Decision
What happened: American Top Team’s Tibau, a member of Andrei Benkei’s mutant army of insane weight cutters, came in at what looked like a muscular 180 pounds for this match. He then proceeded to throw Neer around the cage like a ragdoll. Tibau scored with thunderous slams in each round but could not get much going on the ground against Neer’s excellent defensive guard. Midway through the second round, the Brazilian appeared to run out of steam, but he still held on for the win due to his repeated takedowns.
Forecast for Tibau: With three wins in four fights, Tibau has had arguably the strongest year of his career. “The Ultimate Fighter 5” lightweight winner Nate Diaz would serve as a stern test for him, as would Evan Dunham. It might also be interesting to see if Tibau could secure the same volume of takedowns against a top-notch wrestler like one-time UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk, the man he was originally booked to meet at UFC 104.
Forecast for Neer: The situation for Neer has not changed much from his loss to Kurt Pellegrino in August. Even though he displayed aggression, heart and his solid guard work, he lacked the fire he showed against “Batman.” With losses in three of his last four fights, “The Dentist” seems to be running out of reasons why the UFC should keep him on board. Should he get another shot inside the Octagon, his opponent could come from a list that includes Spencer Fisher, Clay Guida or Aaron Riley.
Cain Velasquez def. Ben Rothwell -- TKO (Punches) 0:58 R2
What happened: Velasquez emerged from the marquee heavyweight matchup as a legitimate contender for UFC gold. The two-time All-American wrestler scored takedown after takedown against the much larger Rothwell and put a real beating on the former International Fight League standout when the action hit the mat. Velasquez punished his opponent against the cage, forcing referee Steve Mazzagatti to stop the fight early in the second round, even though Rothwell was improving his position. The crowd responded with a chorus of boos.
Forecast for Velasquez: Only two options exist for Velasquez. He can sit on the sidelines and wait for his shot at the winner of the Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin showdown at UFC 106 or risk bout against a winner from the Junior dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga or Paul Buentello vs. Todd Duffee matchups.
Forecast for Rothwell: Rothwell finds himself in a tough spot. After losing high-profile fights in Affliction and the UFC, he has to work himself back into contention. The UFC has plenty of opponents with his collar size. Paul Buentello, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Heath Herring all fit the bill.
Lyoto Machida def. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua -- Unanimous Decision
What happened: Over the course of 25 minutes, Rua applied the perfect game plan and picked apart a man many believed to be invincible. “Shogun” remained patient and stayed outside Machida’s reach before attacking with thumping kicks to the leg and the midsection, along with combinations of punches and kicks. He also used his wrestling skills to muscle the titleholder against the cage and work from the clinch.
Commentators, journalists and 16,000 fans in attendance at the Staples Center expected the title to change hands after five rounds of highly tactical cage fighting. However, judges Cecil Peoples, Marcos Rosales and Nelson Hamilton inexplicably saw three rounds in favor of the defending champion. This prompted further cries to revise the scoring criteria for MMA and caused UFC President Dana White to schedule an “immediate” rematch, which could come as early as UFC 108 in January.
Forecast for Machida: Rematch with Shogun in early 2010.
Forecast for Shogun: Rematch with Machida in early 2010.