Bad fight, worse decision.
Lyoto Machida retained his Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight title Saturday night at Staples Center, to the dismay of thousands who watched challenger Mauricio "Shogun" Rua perform as the aggressor and deliver powerful kicks to the champ's legs in a bout lacking in action.
All three judges awarded Machida (16-0) a 48-47 decision -- the first lost rounds of his career -- despite a sluggish, hesitant showing that the champion himself said was "the most difficult fight I've had in the UFC." Judges Marcos Rosales and Cecil Peoples gave Machida the first, second and third rounds, and judge Nelson Hamilton awarded him the second, third and fourth.
"Sorry, guys," Machida said.
Machida was bombarded with boos after the decision was announced, and fellow Brazilian Rua (18-4) shook his head in disapproval. Most ringside MMA writers had Rua winning a decision, three rounds to two.
"I trained hard for four months for this," Rua said afterward. "I feel like I won this fight. What can you do?"
Ask for a rematch, of course. Machida said, "Whatever he wants. I try again. No problem."
Rua revealed afterward that repeated kicks to Machida's legs "was part of the main strategy," and he immediately employed the tactic. Machida did try to produce a first-round onslaught of blows, but Rua muted it by running at the champion to cushion the shots.
The next round was soured by extended karate stances and an exchange of right kicks to the chest. Rua was clearly his foe's equal.
Machida picked up the pace in the third, starting with two left kicks to Rua's lower body. In the final 35 seconds, Machida charged with real commitment, landing a knee to Rua's gut and backing the challenger to the cage with a flurry of punches.
Why not keep doing that? He didn't. In the fourth, Machida was stepping gingerly on a left leg that had been pounded by kicks. The boos for inactivity rained at Staples, and jostling packed the final minute.
Finally, with Rua sipping water and calmly talking strategy while standing with his cornermen, he came out landing kicks again. Apparently, they didn't score. Rua flung some punches that maybe didn't score, but at least he was pushing the action.
The belt appeared to be Rua's until the decision was announced.
Rosales said Machida "was more effective in the first three rounds; his striking was right on it. Rua's leg kicks did not change Machida's style of fighting. Machida was still landing his knees and kicks."
Peoples said he "feels good about what was a close fight."
UFC president Dana White said he believed Rua won the fight and added, "there will be an immediate rematch."
As he walked out of the octagon, Machida's manager kiddingly wiped fake sweat from his forehead.
He got away with one. But everyone saw it.
The Staples crowd of an announced 16,000 reacted warmly to the Spanish music accompanying the ring walk of top UFC heavyweight prospect Cain Velasquez, and the Salinas, Calif., product responded with a dominant performance.
Velasquez gave up more than 25 pounds to opponent Ben Rothwell, but took him down in the first minute and continued to leverage his college wrestling experience to punish Rothwell on the canvas, with punches to the head.
Velasquez at one point delivered 11 punches to Rothwell's bald dome, then repositioned to hit him nine more times.
He then mounted Rothwell to send him a half-dozen lefts to the head. At the end of the first, Rothwell wobbled as he stood.
Rothwell (30-7) found himself pinned against the cage early in the second round, and Velasquez uncorked six straight left hooks to the chin, causing referee Steve Mazzagatti to stop the fight at the 58-second mark.
The crowd roared its approval to the UFC's new rising star, who's now 7-0 and poised to get the winner of next month's heavyweight title fight between champion Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
Velasquez spoke Spanish to the crowd and announcer Joe Rogan said, "The hype was justified."
In other undercard action, Victorville's Joe Stevenson (36-10) pounded fellow veteran lightweight Spencer Fisher with repeated forearm blows to the head, causing Fisher (24-5) to tap out at the 4:03 mark of the second round.