LOS ANGELES -- Lyoto Machida defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua by unanimous decision after five hard-fought, technical rounds to retain the light heavyweight championship at UFC 104 "Machida vs. Shogun" on Saturday at the Staples Center.
The decision was widely booed in the arena, with many patrons obviously swayed by Rua's performance in the Octagon.
"My corner told me that I was winning all the rounds," Rua said. "I feel like I won this fight, but a fight is a fight. What can I do?"
He punished the legs and body of Machida -- who, before this fight, had never lost a round in any of his seven UFC appearances -- and closed the distance to negate a majority of his attacks. Shogun seemed to take over in the final two rounds, as Machida visibly slowed. The toll of the unrelenting body attack with which Rua had persisted paid dividends late and had the champion uncharacteristically out of synch.
By focusing on Machida's body, "Shogun" targeted the biggest area of one of the more elusive fighters the sport has seen. Despite the loss, he easily eclipsed any of Machida's previous opponents' performances and may have put a crack in the façade of invincibility that surrounded the titleholder.
The early rounds were all close, and Machida did his share of damage, clipping Rua with slick combinations and kicks while fighting mostly a counterpunching style.
Round 4 seemed to be the turning point of the bout, however, as Rua steadily found the mark with more and more punches, as well as the thudding body shots with which he had already been scoring. The final round was all Rua. Machida, bleeding from his mouth and struggling to keep his hands up, was forced into a defensive posture while Shogun attacked throughout the frame.
When the final bell sounded, Rua threw his hands into the air and celebrated with his team; Machida half-heartedly answered, raising his hands in victory, as well.
In a telling sign, as he waited for the scorecards to be announced, Machida stood with his head down, looking solemn and preparing for bad news. It never came. All three judges scored the bout 48-47 for Machida, giving him his eighth consecutive victory in the UFC.
The battered champion admitted it was his stiffest test to date inside the hallowed Octagon and welcomed the idea of a rematch.
"Whenever he wants," Machida said. "No problem."
Velasquez grinds down Rothwell
There may have been little doubt in the outcome of the heavyweight contender matchup between Cain Velasquez and Ben Rothwell, but referee Steve Mazzagatti created a storm of controversy by stepping in to stop the fight just 58 seconds into Round 2.
Velasquez dominated the first frame and was on his way to another lopsided round in the second when Mazzagatti broke the fighters. He halted the fight while Velasquez had Rothwell pinned against the cage landing unanswered blows to his face. Velasquez said it felt like Rothwell could have kept going.
The odd part of the equation was the fact that Mazzagatti had allowed the bout to continue in the first round when Velasquez was in a much more dominant position and doing similar damage.
The Mexican heavyweight, who may now very well find himself in line to face the winner of the Brock Lesnar-Shane Carwin bout scheduled for Nov. 21, showed why he has been so highly praised so early in his career by outclassing a veteran of Rothwell's caliber.
Rothwell, who lost for just the second time in 16 fights, established himself early in the first round by landing the better shots on the feet and escaping to his feet after a couple of takedowns. Velasquez put an end to any hopes Rothwell may have harbored about winning his UFC debut by slamming him to the mat midway through the opening period and pounding him until the round came to a close.
"Coming off the last win, I wanted to keep improving and getting better, and that's what I'm doing," Velasquez said.
Tibau tames Neer
Gleison Tibau decisioned Josh Neer in a workmanlike effort, using superior takedown skills to take his foe out of the fight. Scores were 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for the Brazilian.
Tibau took down Neer repeatedly, and though Neer showed good grappling skills by getting back up, he never could get his offense on track.
Tibau landed the better shots in the first round, bloodying his nose with numerous straight left hands. He showed his submission savvy in the second, transitioning from back control and a rear-naked choke attempt to an armbar from which Neer escaped.
Neer took top position after the missed submissions and may have squeaked out the round with his best offensive output of the fight late in the period. He tracked down a weary and retreating Tibau, landing his best shots of the three-round affair.
In Round 3, Tibau scored three more takedowns on a visibly frustrated Neer, who just had no answer. Neer showed great determination by fighting right up to the final bell, but he could not navigate the takedown game Tibau employed.
Stevenson reels in Fisher
Joe Stevenson ran his record to 2-0 under coach Greg Jackson with a dominating technical win over Spencer Fisher.
Stevenson was expected by many, including Fisher, to shoot for takedowns at every opportunity, but the one-time lightweight title challenger showed improved movement and footwork and frustrated Fisher on the feet.
Stevenson opened a cut outside Fisher's right eye with a left hand just seconds into the match. Fisher shook it off and showed good takedown defense early in the round. He shrugged off a pair of Stevenson shots before succumbing to one in the last minute of the opening frame.
Stevenson deposited Fisher to the mat from a rear clinch and tried to take his back as the seconds ticked down at the end of the round. Fisher ate a few punches but fought off the submission attempt.
The second round went even worse for Fisher. Stevenson took him to the ground early in the round and punished him with shots from the top, eventually moving to half-guard. From there, he opened up with elbows that left Fisher totally defensive.
Stevenson then sealed the deal by trapping Fisher's left arm between his legs and his right with his left hand, leaving his right elbow free to bash Fisher's face until referee Herb Dean stepped in to end the barrage at 4 minutes, 3 seconds of the second round.
"My little sister and big sister used to team up and do that to me and put makeup on me when I was little," said Stevenson, who has rattled off two straight wins.
Johnson overwhelms Yoshida
Anthony Johnson knocked out Yoshiyuki Yoshida with a clubbing right hand 41 seconds into the first round. Johnson, who came into the fight six pounds over the 170-pound limit, overwhelmed Yoshida with strikes and showed no ill effects from the huge amount of weight he had to cut.
"I just saw somebody chasing me, and I was punching," Johnson said. "I saw a big face in front of me, so I decided to hit it."
Johnson scored with a series of punches before landing the telling blow that stiffened Yoshida and sent him to the canvas for good. The 25-year-old blamed his inability to make weight on a knee injury and stated he would stay at welterweight for the time being.
Yoshida, a highly skilled judo practitioner, tried to close the distance on Johnson but could not find his way from the end of his opponent's punches.
Greg Savage is a contributor to Sherdog.com.