Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was reflective and at least slightly apathetic minutes after fellow Brazilian Lyoto Machida secured the status as the No. 1 contender in the light heavyweight division.
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“It’s OK,” Rua said through an interpreter in the wake of Saturday’s UFC on FOX card. “I respect the decision. . . . Lyoto is a top fighter and he deserves right now to be the contender. Let’s wait for my opportunity.”
It was that mind-set — as much as what took place inside the octagon at Staples Center on Saturday night — that led UFC president Dana White to tap Machida. Just a few days ago, Machida’s bout against Ryan Bader wasn’t even supposed to have any bearing on the top of the light heavyweight division before White did an about face and declared the most impressive win from the final two UFC on FOX 4 bouts would get a title shot.
“It really wasn’t a hard decision,” White said. “Lyoto wants it more than Shogun does. (Rua) didn’t dispute that tonight either. It wasn’t the case where he’s (expletive) saying, ‘I won the fight. I was the main event tonight. I’m one of the top-rated guys in the world. I’ve been one of the best over the last 10 years and I don’t get this shot?’ That’s what a guy who really wanted it would have said.”
If White went purely on what transpired in the Octagon, it would have been tough. Both Rua and Machida knocked out their opponents, albeit at different intervals.
Machida and Bader remained upright and danced for most of the first round. Bader, who might have tired of pacing himself against the patient Machida, lunged forward early in the second round, leaving his chin exposed. Machida used a single right hand to knock out Bader.
“It’s very hard to say,” Machida said. “Maybe my knockout was more impressive.”
Machida’s KO at least took less effort. Rua took on a very hungry Brandon Vera, who was looking to right his career after years of unmet expectations, along with a broken arm he suffered in a bout against Eliot Marshall last October.
“I was pushing the pace, man,” Vera said when a reporter asked if Rua’s stamina was in question. “Everybody wants to talk about Shogun being tired. I was pushing the pace. You think he’s tired and he’s out of shape?”
Vera escaped Rua’s grasp several times in the fight scheduled for five rounds. (Bader-Machida was scheduled to be a three-rounder.) In the fourth, however, Rua cornered Vera, and a few combo punches later, the referee halted the fight.
“Shogun just kept pushing,” Vera said. “I don’t remember the TKO, but he hit me once and my mouthpiece kind of came half out. I tried to fix it really quick and he hit me with another shot. The next thing I knew, (referee) Herb (Dean) was asking, `Are you OK?’ ”
Minutes later, White announced the decision on the FOX telecast. Machida now faces either current titleholder Jon Jones or Dan Henderson, who meet at UFC 151 on Sept. 1.
Machida’s previous UFC loss came against Jones at UFC 140 last December via a second-round submission.
“What I can tell you is that (Machida) wants it bad,” White said. “That’s really important to me, how bad he wants to fight. I’m sure Lyoto is lying in bed every night since that fight thinking about all the things he should have done and what he could do (differently). Now, he’s got it. We’ll find out.”
Machida said it “doesn’t matter” if he faces Henderson or Jones.
“I don’t know,” Machida said. “It’s too early to think about that. My last fight against Jones wasn’t great. I have to change some things.”
According to White, however, the 34-year-old Brazilian’s drive isn’t one of them.