Plenty on the line in Machida vs. Rua
What is being billed as “the biggest rematch of the year” takes place this Saturday at UFC 113, as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will face UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in the evening's main event. The intrigue surrounding the rematch is by no means in short supply, as Rua will look for satisfaction following one of the most controversial judges decisions in the history of mixed martial arts, while Machida hopes to reaffirm his undefeated record and status as the best light heavyweight in the world. A fight of this significance predicated on controversy makes it difficult to consider either fighter a loser in the greater scheme of the UFC, regardless of the outcome. In this case, the outcome will have vastly different repercussions whether champion or challenger proves himself superior.
Both Machida's title and his undefeated record will be put on the line once more against Rua. As damaging as it would be to lose such accolades, Machida is in a position to lose less in defeat than would his opponent. Though his status as the best light heavyweight in the world has been under heavy scrutiny ever since he was awarded a split decision victory over Rua last October, Machida’s undefeated record cannot be overlooked. While Machida will not be awarded an immediate rematch -- the next title contender will be the winner of the Rashad Evans-Quinton “Rampage” Jackson match at UFC 114 -- he will remain on the short list of title contenders. Discounting the possibility of a blowout by Rua, a rubber match between he and Machida would be every bit as compelling on paper as their rematch, if not more so. The worst case scenario for Machida will require him to win two matches before earning another title shot, regardless of whether or not Rua holds the title. Considering that no fewer than six fighters have legitimate arguments for a title shot of their own, Machida’s potential fall from the top of the light heavyweight division won’t be particularly long.
On the other hand, Rua is at a career crossroads. One path leads to the spoils of victory, the title and a rightful place atop the light heavyweight division, while the other will lead Rua far away from title contention for the foreseeable future. It may be a difficult reality for Rua and his fans to accept, but accept it they'll have to should Rua fail to stop Machida or curry the favor of the judges. Failure to win the title will leave Rua's with a pedestrian 2-3 record in the UFC. With the aforementioned half-dozen contenders awaiting the winner of Saturday's main event and the likes of undefeated Ryan Bader and one-loss Jon Jones climbing the ladder toward contention, Rua will need a string of no fewer than three victories in order to sniff title contention for a third time. Even then, Rua will likely have to hope for one or more fighters out of commission to find himself back in the mix of contenders. Think of a losing Rua as the light heavyweight version of Kenny Florian, who needed six consecutive victories over nearly three years in order to earn a second lightweight title shot.
There is a fine line between being the crown and peasantry within the UFC's proverbial kingdom. That fact, perhaps more than any scandalous judging or refinements to Machida's strategy may be Rua's downfall. Machida has to know that, while his title is at stake, a failed defense on Saturday will be but a temporary setback en route to another championship opportunity. Conversely, Rua must realize that a failure to capitalize on his second opportunity at Machida's title will push him to the back of a rather lengthy line of contenders. Such pressure has caused led to the collapse of countless fighters throughout the history of MMA. Then again, legends are born under such pressure.
Given Rua's background in Pride, many long time MMA fans already consider him to be one of the legendary fighters in the sport. Supplanting an undefeated Machida and adding the UFC's light heavyweight title to his Pride Middleweight (205 pounds) Grand Prix championship would not only cement his place in the history of the sport, but may move him past the likes of Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva as the greatest light heavyweight of all time. All of the accolades and adulation can be Rua's if only he can do what many feel he's already done. And yet, Machida remains both the champion and undefeated. That is, at least until Saturday night.
The ebb and flow of each of the UFC’s five divisions is unending. While one division seems devoid of legitimate challengers to the champion, another is overwhelmed with potential contenders. The UFC’s light heavyweight division, over which Machida dubiously reigns for at least one more day, falls into the latter category, making the outcome of Saturday’s championship fight all the more significant. The full ramifications, however, will depend whether the champion can once again retains his title, or if the challenger can earn that which many feel he already has; a decisive victory. The rematch between Machida and Rua may be one of the more satisfying fights of the year. Regardless of the outcome, the six-month long debate over who is the greatest light heavyweight in the world today will finally be settled, barring a similarly indefensible scoring to their first encounter, of course.