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UFC 123 Musings

The fact that Rampage clearly won the fight in my eyes doesn’t mean that the fight wasn’t winnable for Machida.  I think he might have stopped the former undisputed champion had he opened up full throttle with strikes on the ground.

Was there really any doubt?

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida engaged in a very competitive fight.  There is no doubt about that.  But it is tough for me to understand why so many people are surprised by the fact that the judges awarded Rampage a split decision victory.  The only thing that surprised me about the outcome was one judge’s decision to score the fight for Machida.

The criteria for deciding the outcome of a fight are pretty straightforward.  Judges are instructed to evaluate effective striking, effective grappling, Octagon control, effective aggressiveness and defense.  The criteria are listed in order of scoring impact from most to least, meaning that effective striking carries the most weight in scoring a round, whereas defense carries the least weight.  Keep that fact in mind because it is outcome determinative for this fight.

Effective striking takes into account both the total number of legal strikes landed and the significance of those strikes.  There is no guidance as to which of those two aspects of effective striking carries more weight, so each judge gets to make that decision on his or her own.  Effective grappling takes into account takedowns, reversals, guard passes and an active, threatening guard.  Octagon control is determined by who is dictating both the pace of the action and where the fight unfolds.  Effective aggressiveness means moving forward and landing strikes or executing takedowns.  

Each of those is fairly intuitive.  The one that isn’t intuitive is defense.  Defense doesn’t mean avoidance.  The scoring system does not reward a fighter for merely slipping a strike, stalemating a submission attempt or stuffing a takedown attempt.  It is supposed to reward fighters for slipping a strike and countering, defending a submission and reversing the position, or sprawling and brawling.  In other words, it is neutralizing an attack and using that moment to counter attack.

Remember that each round must be scored in isolation.  Applying the scoring criteria on a round-by-round basis, it is very clear who deserved the judges’ nod.

The first round didn’t feature much action by either man.  Rampage snapped back Machida’s head with a left hook and again with a right uppercut.  That was about it in terms of punches with bad intentions from the big fella.  Machida’s only significant strike in that round was a kick to the body landed with 94 seconds remaining in the round.  The kick was a good one, but it definitely did not trump the two clean punches landed by the more powerful Rampage.

Rampage also landed twice as many total strikes in the round.  Remember that one must consider all legal strikes landed, which includes all those body punches, knees and foot stomps in the clinch.  Rampage was much more active, particularly in the clinch.  That is what gave him the edge.  

Whether one’s bias is with total strikes landed or the significance of those strikes, Rampage has to get the nod.  

There weren’t any takedowns or real take down attempts, so effective grappling is a non factor.  I’m not sure either man controlled the Octagon more significantly than the other, since both wanted the action to unfold on the feet.  But Rampage without question was the one who was more aggressive, and since he landed more strikes while coming forward, he wins effective aggressiveness hands down.

I’ll give Machida the defense category because the few strikes he landed were counters.  Rampage didn’t do much in the way of slipping and countering.

So, the first round has Rampage winning effective striking and effective aggressiveness.  Machida wins defense.  Since both of Rampage’s categories carried more weight, it is tough to argue anything other than a 10-9 round for Rampage.  

The second round was just as easy to score.  Rampage again landed at more than twice as many total strikes because of his work in the clinch – and if we’re just talking punches, that margin increases dramatically.  In terms of significance, the right uppercut on the chin followed by a left hook on the temple that Rampage landed with 97 seconds left in the second round hurt Machida.  No doubt about it.  I don’t know why he didn’t instantly press for the finish because his foe was on less than sure footing for the next dozen seconds.  

In any event, those shots were far and away the most significant strikes of the round.  Machida landed a few knees and kicks, but none of them came close to the damage caused by Rampage’s combination.  

Rampage also scored the only takedown of the round.  He didn’t do much with it, but he did keep Machida down for almost 20 seconds.

So, the first two scoring categories – effective striking and effective grappling – have to go to Rampage.  I’ll stalemate Octagon control yet again because neither man really dictated where the fight unfolded to the detriment of the other.  Rampage stalked Machida, just like he did in the first round, and was able to land from time to time.  Machida countered almost exclusively.  Thus, Rampage gets the nod for effective aggressiveness and Machida wins defense.

Taking all that as true, Rampage wins the second round 10-9, which means a two-point lead heading into the final round.  Machida won the third, no doubt about it.  But he didn’t dominate Rampage by any means.  The only significant moment was a 13-strike barrage where roughly half of the shots landed.  Rampage was retreating the entire time, and then got dumped on his backside thanks to a nice takedown.  Machida moved into the mount briefly, though he did absolutely no damage whatsoever on the ground.

There is no plausible argument for scoring the third 10-8.  It was more definitive than either the first or second round, but it was not a truly dominant round at all.  As a result, I just don’t see how anyone, including Rampage, was shocked by the judges’ decision.  

This is one time when they got it right.

Machida simply waited too long

The fact that Rampage clearly won the fight in my eyes doesn’t mean that the fight wasn’t winnable for Machida.  I think he might have stopped the former undisputed champion had he opened up full throttle with strikes on the ground.  Machida had nothing to lose at that point.   He was behind on two of the three cards.  A stoppage was the only way he was going to win – 10-7 rounds are about as common as legitimate Bigfoot sightings.  

My question is why did Machida wait until halfway through the final round to open up?  He showed that he had much faster hands than his foe, so why not be more aggressive from the jump?  

The reality is that the knockout loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is to blame for Machida’s cautiousness.  He admitted in the weeks leading up to the fight that he fought too aggressively against Shogun, and that is why he got knocked out.  It wasn’t much of a surprise to see him shy away from such aggression until he was hopelessly behind on the cards.

I believe the fight would have ended by knockout if Machida would have fought aggressively right out of the gate.  Maybe he would have caught Rampage.  Maybe the howling striker would have clipped Machida.  Either way, someone would have gone to sleep.

Penn erases any doubts

BJ Penn couldn’t have scripted his third fight with Matt Hughes any better.  A 21-second knockout win is about as good as it gets.  

The win erased any question that Penn can compete in the welterweight division.  His previous three-consecutive losses in the division don’t really mean anything anymore.  He is a contender at 170-pounds.  It’s written.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I had no doubt that Penn was going to win the fight when I saw him walking to the Octagon.  I haven’t seen “The Prodigy” that focused and amped up for a fight since his first bout with Hughes.  Emotion was dripping from face while his trademark entrance mix by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole boomed through the arena.  It was as if Penn was fighting for all Hawaiians.  I know that is a silly concept, but Penn identifies with that song better than any other fighter and his entrance song.

Quick knockout loss should not deter Hughes

I know Hughes lost in just about the most definitive way possible.  I get that.  I don’t care.  He shouldn’t let the loss get to him.

The former champion was in the midst of a three-fight winning streak before getting obliterated by Penn.  I submit, though, that a 21-second knockout loss is no different than getting knocked out four minutes into the third round.  A loss is a loss.  Period.

Hughes looked much better in his last three fights than he has in years.  He is a better rounded fighter now than he has been at any point in his Hall of Fame career.  Granted, he isn’t as dominant because he can’t outwrestle the world like he used to.  So what?  There are more than one or even two ways to skin a cat.

Hughes should take a week to rest and forget the loss.  He should then jump back on the horse and look to get another fight against a top 170-pound contender.  I think Hughes can make a bit of noise in the welterweight division next year.

Davis continues to impress

Phil Davis is a special athlete.  Four time Division I All-American in wrestling.  2008 National Champion.  116 collegiate wins.  He is definitely a special athlete.

Eight fights into his mixed martial arts career, Davis remains undefeated, and the best part is that the guy seems to dramatically improve with every fight.  Saturday night was the perfect case in point.  The submission hold he used to end the fight was a modified Kimura, and being able to pull off such an unorthodox move shows a level of understanding of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that’s almost unheard of for a guy just two years into his career.  

Davis hasn’t yet reached super prospect status like fellow former collegiate wrestler Jon Jones, but he isn’t far behind, either.  I’d like to see Davis next fight a dominant striker with excellent takedown defense because we still don’t know if this guy can survive on his feet against a true killer.  It’s time to throw this kid into the deep end and see if he can swim.  

Sotiropoulous makes his case

George Sotiropoulous is now 7-0 in the UFC.  Seven straight wins ties for sixth all time.  Only Anderson Silva (12) and Gray Maynard (8) have active streaks that are longer.  Silva is the best fighter on the planet.  Maynard is fighting for the title.  Sotiropoulous is somewhat of an afterthought in the division, failing to register on most lists of top contenders.  I’ll bet that all changes after his impressive win over Joe Lauzon.  I firmly believe that he has done enough to warrant a spot on Dana White’s short list for 155-pound title contenders.