Breaking down Machida vs Rua

By Eric Kamander Subscribe to Articles by Eric Kamander

Yesterday I brought up the appearance of impropriety as the UFC’s, and MMA’s, single biggest obstacle. And specifically I was referring to this appearance as the result of inconsistent, or even faulty, officiating. As I mentioned it seems that after every event there is some controversy over the refereeing or judging. But how much of that is the fault of the officials, and how much is simply a matter of ambiguous rules. For now let’s take a look at that some of the ambiguity that goes into judging for fans and officials alike.

Recently the title fight between Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone at WEC 43 led to debates over how judges value strikes vs. submission attempts vs. grappling control. The more recent fight between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua at UFC 104 did not lead to similar debates as the majority of fans across the board all seemed to agree that Shogun was robbed. Of course the judges did not agree.

There are many factors that contribute to the way we see a fight, especially when we have some preconception about how the fight is going to unfold. When a perceived underdog is significantly impressive, their success is often exaggerated. The skewed perspective is only exacerbated when you have a fighter like Shogun stalking a retreating Machida.

In an effort to better understand the disparity between the officials and MMA fans I re-watched the fight without the commentary and frequently used the rewind and slow motion.

I had to do this as this fight had so many pauses in action and sudden bursts of exchanges was not only very difficult to score, but to determine which strikes actually landed.I had to do this as this to capture the sudden bursts of fast-paced exchanges that interrupted then generally cautious pace of the fight. This was the only way I could determine which strikes actually landed. My goal was not to score the fight, but to record the strikes. Note that I did not count punches or kicks that landed on the arms. Some things I did discover include:

– Shogun blocked many of Machida’s punches.
– Many of Shogun’s kicks were either blocked or missed all together.
– The vast majority of Shogun’s leg kicks landed underneath Machida’s body kicks.
– The commentators frequently made a commotion over strikes that did not land effectively.

After almost every exchange, regardless of who landed what, Shogun backed up and spread his arms as if to indicate that he was unscathed and won the exchange. This was where Machida really disappointed me. I fully expected Machida to be able to capitalize on these moments as well as when Shogun spins around after missing round house kicks.

Similarly to the debate over how much a takedown is worth, this fight begs the question: how much is a leg kick worth. I’m no official, but I’ve always considered a leg kick to be an effective strike, similar to a jab. On the other hand, I’ve always considered takedowns nothing more than a means to and end, meaning it is not the takedown that counts, but what you do with the takedown. Alternatively should a strike’s value be judged in proportion to its likelihood of ending fights? According to Cecil Peoples’ interview, his perspective is that leg kicks don’t usually end fights and therefore are not valued very highly. While you may not agree with, or respect, Cecil Peoples, his ability to maintain this viewpoint is indicative of the greater ambiguity in mixed martial arts judging. According to the unified rules “effective striking is judged by determining the total number of legal heavy strikes landed by a contestant.” Well what constitutes a “heavy strike?” Maybe for some judges a leg kick does not constitute a heavy strike (unless it finishes the opponent).

All three judges scored the bouts 48/47, but they disagreed on the rounds:
Marcus Rosales gave Machida Rounds 1, 2 and 3.
Cecil Peoples gave Machida Rounds 1, 2 and 3.
Nelson “Doc” Hamilton gave Machida Rounds 2, 3 and 4.
You can also see their actual score cards.

Looking at the strikes landed in each round you can see where an official would score rounds for Machida if they dismiss the effect of legs kicks. If there’s one conclusion I’ve come to after re-watching the fight, its that it was not the robbery that it was made out to be.

Strikes in Round 1: Machida Rua
head punch 2
knees to head 1
body punch 2
knees to body 5 2
body kicks 3 2
knees to legs 7
leg kicks 1 4
Strikes in Round 2: Machida Rua
head punch 2 1
knees to body 1 2
body kicks 3 2
knees to legs 1 8
leg kicks 2 2
Strikes in Round 3: Machida Rua
head punch 9
elbow to head 1
knees to body 2
body kicks 5 3
knees to legs 2
leg kicks 1 7
Strikes in Round 4: Machida Rua
head punch 3
elbow to head 1
knees to body 1
body kicks 1 2
leg kicks 1 4
Strikes in Round 5: Machida Rua
head punch 2 3
knees to head 2
knees to body 1
knees to legs 1 1
body kicks 1 1
leg kicks 4

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