LOS ANGELES, August 4 – Former UFC champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had to dig deep Saturday night at STAPLES Center to hold off the most resilient and determined Brandon Vera fans have ever seen. The result: A fourth round TKO victory for Shogun that kept him in the light heavyweight title picture. It was yet another dramatic war for the Brazilian standout, who waged one of the sport’s all-time classics last year during a five-round nail-biter with Dan Henderson.
Yet Shogun, who battered Vera (12-6, 1 NC) with heavy shots throughout and came close to ending the fight with a vicious assault in the second round, was not impressed by his showing.
“I’m sorry guys, I didn’t give my best today, but for sure I will give my best in the future,” said Rua (21-7), who conceded he battled fatigue against Vera. “The most important thing is the victory. I respect Brandon a lot. He gave a good fight so let’s see what happens next.”
The big question everyone was asking immediately following the fight was, “Which light heavyweight on the UFC on FOX 4 card will get the next title shot?”
It was apparently down to two: Lyoto Machida and Shogun. But UFC president Dana White, gleaming from an action-packed night of fights, declared afterward that it was Machida who would get the next title shot.
While Shogun overcame a Vera who pushed him to the brink – it was the most aggressive Vera we’ve ever seen, perhaps exonerating him of any “underachiever label” after the punishment he put on Rua – Machida provided no suspense whatsoever in his campaign for a title shot.
Once upon a time, Lyoto Machida was MMA’s greatest mystery, an unbeaten puzzle no opponent could solve. A 1-3 stretch later, fans wondered what had become of the former UFC champ’s mojo.
Wonder no more. Based on his dominant performance in Saturday night’s co-main event – a second-round knockout over Ryan Bader – the Machida of old is back and primed for another crack at the UFC title.
The 34-year-old said as much following his victory, telling Joe Rogan, “I feel very well. It was a great performance. I want to say, ‘The Dragon is back!’”
The outcome was never in doubt as Machida (18-3) masterfully and methodically picked The Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner apart with vicious leg and rib kicks in round one, along with some wicked knees to the midsection. The crowd chanted “Machida! Machida!” in unison as Bader (15-2), owner of one of the light heavyweight division’s most booming right hands, often lunged forward but hit only air.
Bader would pay a heavy price for his aggression in the second stanza. As the former Arizona State University wrestler lunged forward in an effort to uncork his right hand, Machida countered with a perfectly placed right hand to the chin that put Bader out cold. Moments later, at 1:32 of the round, the ref called the fight.
Watch Machida's post-fight interview
JAMIE VARNER VS. JOE LAUZON
If there was one fight on this card that was guaranteed to be as good as advertised, a bout overwhelmingly favored to be Fight of the Night, it was this savory matchup between two of the game’s best first-round finishers. But, in fact, what transpired in the cage between Jamie Varner and Joe Lauzon was a sure-fire candidate for Fight of the Year.
The war of attrition ended with Lauzon having his hand raised on the strength of a slick triangle that forced the former World Extreme Cagefighting champion to tap at 2:44 of the final frame.
The dramatic ending whipped the live crowd into a euphoric frenzy and prevented the fight from going to the judges’ scorecards, where the winner might as well have been decided by a coin toss.
There was no pitter-patter in this one. Ultra-aggression and heavy leather were on full display, the action non-stop. The suddenly resurgent Varner (20-7-1, 1 NC) has perhaps never looked better, putting Lauzon (22-7) on the deck with a monster right hand in round one and repeatedly cracking the Bostonian with crisp combos and digging body shots. But for all of Varner’s power punching and elbows, Lauzon never backed down and relentlessly stalked his foe throughout. The blistering pace caused Varner to slow midway and the tide turned in Lauzon’s favor as he scored takedowns, inflicted with ground and pound, took Varner’s back and threatened with a rear naked choke.
The hold-nothing-back ferocity and determination of both men brought the live crowd to its feet on numerous occasions. The atmosphere was nothing short of electric and hair-raising.
Varner and Lauzon, in a show of mutual respect, hugged as the third round commenced. Based on body language, the 28-year-old Lauzon appeared to be the fresher fighter. Yet it was Varner, coming off an upset knockout over previously unbeaten Edson Barboza, who inflicted the most damage early on. The Arizonan scored a textbook double leg takedown. Lauzon got to his feet and landed a crisp 1-2 combination. Varner than unleashed a five-punch combination and followed it up shortly thereafter with three elbows. And still, Lauzon kept coming. Lauzon attempted a takedown, Varner reversed with a butterfly sweep and Lauzon deftly transitioned to the fight-cinching triangle the nearly blew the roof off Staples Center.
It was one of the biggest wins of Lauzon’s career, up there with his 2006 upset over former UFC champ Jens Pulver and his submission win last October over Melvin Guillard.
Hear from "J-Lau" following his big win
MIKE SWICK VS. DAMARQUES JOHNSON
After nearly two and a half years away from the Octagon, veteran Mike Swick returned in triumphant fashion, notching his 10th UFC win with a dramatic knockout of DaMarques Johnson.
Swick (15-4) appeared vulnerable after Johnson punished him with ground and pound in round one, offsetting some heavy right hands that Swick had landed early in the fight. Looking a little bit rubbery-legged, Swick deftly caught a Johnson kick and added a diving right hand to put the Utah fighter out cold with one shot. Referee Herb Dean stopped the action at 1:20 of the second frame.
“Hey guys, remember me?” said Swick, who had been sidelined due to injuries and illness. “I had to take what I could get, man (in the fight). He brought a lot more than I thought. I was really worried that I couldn’t see out of one eye …”
Watch Swick's post-fight interview
Shogun and Machida KO Foes; Dragon Gets Title Shot -UFC on FOX 4 Main Card Results
By Frank Curreri August 04, 2012