Commentary

Five things to take away from UFC 123

Originally Published: November 22, 2010
By Josh Gross | ESPN.com

Jackson/MachidaEd Mulholland for ESPN.comVery little separated Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida -- to no one's surprise.

As expected, UFC 123 delivered a phalanx of new plots and revelations, both as the event unfolded and in its aftermath.

Here are five things to take away from Saturday's event in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Robbery? No. Competitive? Yes.

Quinton Jackson and Lyoto Machida came together for a light heavyweight clash that, to no one's surprise, resulted in a tightly contested decision. The outcome -- a split-points win for Jackson -- is worth discussing, but don't waste your time trying to find fault with the judges assigned by the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission. Veteran officials Nelson Hamilton, Sal D'Amato and Jeff Blatnick were asked to do their job on a night when neither fighter took the initiative until the final round.

D'Amato and Blatnick favored Jackson's aggression in the opening period. Hamilton had it for Machida, who pecked away at the inside of his opponent's lead leg and connected with two solid kicks to the body. It's hard to disagree with Hamilton's view. For all of Jackson's fury, he missed far more than he connected, landing only a glancing left hook and a quality uppercut in the first.

Bursting forward and swinging shouldn't have been enough to award him the round, but just as it's seemingly impossible for a fighter to earn points from his or her back, it's extremely difficult to notch any moving away like Machida did.

The second period may have been more difficult to score than the first because most offensive successes were met with some sort of counter. Jackson's best moment of the round came when he responded to a Machida knee aimed at his body with an uppercut-hook combination.

Through two rounds, I had it an even fight, and additional viewings didn't do anything to convince me otherwise.

Round 3 was easily the best five-minute stretch of the fight, and it belonged to Machida.

Jackson walked into the main event of UFC 123 intending to cut off Machida's movement and keep him in close range. He had some success, though Machida almost always found an escape through the back door.

"Someone like Machida, that's very elusive like that, is really tricky," Jackson said.

Should the Brazilian be faulted for quick feet and a style that plays up defense? Two of three judges thought so. "I did the best that I could tonight, but if the judges saw that Quinton won, that's what the judges saw," Machida said. Credit Jackson, though, for rediscovering speed in legs that appeared to be stuck in the mud the last few years, especially since he battled fever and illness throughout fight week.

New life for Rampage

No matter what anyone thinks of the decision, there's no denying Jackson (31-8) was much better prepared to fight Machida (16-2) than against Rashad Evans in May.

Jackson credited much of his revitalization to the spirit that made him a fan favorite in Japan, going so far as to walk to the cage at The Palace of Auburn Hills as Pride's promotional theme song blasted with the idea that it might get him howling like Pavlov's dog.

"Back then I used to fight for honor and respect more," Jackson said. "Now I come to UFC and, honestly, I make way more money now than I did in Pride. So I kind of got greedy fighting for the dollars. I wanted to come out to the Pride song and get that old Pride spirit back. I feel like some of it came back. I even tried to slam Machida."

At 32, it's not too late for Jackson, a consensus top-5 light heavyweight, to refocus under the guidance of fighter-turned-trainer Lance Gibson. So long as Jackson doesn't limit his techniques in the cage, so long as he doesn't pretend the only thing he needs to do in a mixed martial arts bout is box.

Up next: How about the winner between Forrest Griffin and Rich Franklin?

Is Machida completely normal?

Not yet.

When he wasn't treating Jackson like a fencer, Machida, 32, displayed flashes of brilliance that propelled him briefly to a UFC championship. The mystique is gone -- in this respect he is much more normal than prior to the first fight against Rua in October 2009 -- however, Machida's athleticism and technique appear to be as good as they've ever been.

He'll walk away from Saturday's fight with a record that, for the first time in his career, reflects consecutive losses. But Machida and his camp should treat the decision against Jackson as positive for no other reason than he remained conscious, which considering the circumstances could represent the most important long-range outcome. Another stoppage loss would have done him in.

Penn's perfect result

If there's a fighter who best represents the manic nature of MMA, it's B.J. Penn. As inconsistent as he is talented, Penn's stunning knockout over Matt Hughes in 21 seconds halted a two-fight skid, scored him the rubber match against one of the best fighters in MMA history, and immediately thrust the Hawaiian into a major fight against Jon Fitch in February in Sydney, Australia.

Not a bad night of work considering how far his stock had fallen this year after a UFC lightweight title-losing performance to Frankie Edgar and a rematch in which he appeared to have no chance. Returning to welterweight, where fighters are slower but stronger than their counterparts at 155, Penn (16-7-1) didn't have to worry about being beaten to the punch. The question was whether or not he could handle Hughes tying him up for 15 minutes. Of course, Hughes (45-8) took a right hand to the jaw -- much the same as he did when they first met in 2004 -- and everything was academic after that.

Fitch presents a much tougher test for Penn than Hughes, who was hoping for one more run at the title after turning 37 in October. Perennially ranked No. 2 in the world behind Georges St. Pierre, Fitch is an elite welterweight in the prime of his career. He rarely earns marquee fights because of a style that's yielded eight straight decisions, and would be remiss if he didn't send Penn a nice note for the opportunity to main event a UFC pay-per-view instead of facing Jake Ellenberger on an undercard.

The future is here

Edson Barboza (7-0) made good in his UFC debut with a leg assault against a game but overmatched Mike Lullo (8-2). The amount of young talent in the lightweight division is at an all-time high, and the UFC can pick and choose which fighters it wants to develop. They've tabbed Barboza, a 24-year-old Brazilian who trains out of Jupiter, Fla. His resemblance to featherweight UFC champion Jose Aldo is unmistakable, both in appearance and technique. Does he have the same depth of talent? Is he a better prospect than Charles Oliveira? We'll know soon enough.