Friday, May 7, 2010 | 11 p.m.
The first time Lyoto Machida and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua fought, it was a matchup between a seemingly unbeatable champion and a fighter that hadn’t quite looked the same since knee surgery.
Heading into their highly anticipated rematch Saturday at UFC 113 in Montreal, Canada, it’s safe to say the storyline is a little different.
It took everything Machida had to keep his perfect record intact last October, eventually defeating Rua by a unanimous, and highly controversial, decision in Los Angeles.
It was a much closer fight than most had expected — particularly oddsmakers, who listed Machida as a 5-to-1 favorite (risk $1 to win $5) that night.
“Machida was almost invincible at the time and Shogun wasn’t extremely impressive,” said Rob Akers, assistant manager of The Venetian sports book. “He did knock out Chuck Liddell, but at that time, Liddell was pretty susceptible to being knocked out.
“I think everybody thought that Machida was going to just walk right through him.”
While Machida is still listed as the favorite to win Saturday, few are expecting the defending champ to have an easy time doing so.
According to Akers, who has been setting MMA lines since 2001, The Venetian is seeing action on both fighters to win the rematch. The line opened with Machida favored at -170 (risk $1.70 to win $1).
Huge changes in betting lines when regarding rematches aren’t completely uncommon, partly because they do rely on opinion more than other sports.
After watching Chuck Liddell knock out Tito Ortiz in 2004, Akers had Liddell favored 4-to-1 for their rematch in 2006 while offshore books posted him at half that.
“A lot of times it becomes opinion,” Akers said. “After watching that first fight between Liddell and Ortiz, I just thought it was a bad matchup for Ortiz. I made the line -400 for the second go around when some offshore books had it as low as -200. It just became a major difference in opinion.”
History has shown that rarely do rematches mimic the first fight in MMA.
Even if Saturday is an exception and the fight goes the distance, at least there is already one major difference — fans are expecting anything but an easy fight for the champ.
Out of the eight UFC fighters who have met Machida in the octagon, Rua is arguably the only one to have actually hurt him.
Machida (16-0) entered their first contest as the least hit fighter in the organization, but was visibly bothered by Rua’s offense of almost all leg and body kicks.
Whether that strategy will work again a second time on Machida is a good question. Rua (18-4) looked more comfortable as the fight went on but that was somewhat due to the fact he limited Machida’s mobility by attacking his legs.
Now that Machida has seen that style for 25 minutes, however, he may be able to avoid it better.
“I believe every fight is different but I do think that being in there for 25 minutes, he noticed some things about me and I noticed some things about him,” Machida said. “That’s the great thing about a rematch is that we’re both familiar with each other.”
Even before the first fight, many suggested the best way to defeat Machida would be to get him to the ground.
Taking Machida down did not appear to be in Rua’s game plan in the first fight and the Brazilian fighter admitted that standing with Machida is always risky but somewhat hinted that it’s exactly what he’s trained to do.
“Many people think that taking the fight to the ground would be a good way to win the fight,” Rua said. “But that’s a very hard thing to say. Lyoto is a good player on the ground and it’s hard to get him to the ground.
“When preparing for a fight you have to go through the worst situations. With Machida, the worst time is fighting him standing up but I’ve prepared for the worst.”
Rua has said he believes he won the first fight. Considering he stood for the entire 25 minutes of that fight, the challenger has to be fairly confident in his ability to hang with Machida on the feet.
Last Time Out:
Machida: Unanimous decision win over Mauricio Rua at UFC 104.
Rua: Unanimous decision loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 104.
The Lines: Machida, minus-180; Rua, plus-150
Machida: On whether it’s the challenger’s role to aggressively take the belt from a champion. “The way I feel about it is that it needs to be fair. I don’t think the challenger has to come in and really take the belt from the champion. I think it needs to be judged round-by-round and I think it needs to be judged fairly.”
Rua: On the challenge of moving from a ring to the cage. “I actually hope that I’m a better fighter than I was in Pride. I train everyday to get better. When I fought Mark Coleman, I did not have a good notion of space. I had never trained in a cage before and that affected my performance. That was likely my biggest mistake when I came to the UFC was that I did not have a fighting space to train at that was like the one I would be fighting in. I’ve corrected that and I think it’s improved my game.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.