The former Light Heavyweight Champion Machida had been stiffed twice after being promised a title shot, so he was hoping a victory over Davis would finally cement his status as number one contender again.
That didn't happen.
Early on, it was Davis who was the aggressor on the feet, landing an assortment of leg and body kicks. Machida seemed to invite the strikes rather than be his typical elusive self, perhaps trying to invite Davis into a stand-up battle and give the American confidence.
A grazing high kick paired with some left hands from the former champion began keeping Davis honest once the round really started to progress. Just when it didn't seem like "The Dragon" was going to strike, he blitzed Davis with a big lunging combination capped off with a knee up the middle just as the former national champion wrestler was changing levels.
Davis recovered and to his credit, responded by lunging forward and taking Machida down with 53 seconds left in the frame. Davis looked to isolate an arm but instead finished strong with elbows and punches in the final 10 seconds when he couldn't secure a submission.
In the second round, Machida's output was much lower, and Davis began to open up, utilizing good movement on the outside and mixing in kicks and an assortment of punches both straight and looping. Machida landed a good straight left hand in the final minute but Davis stepped inside again and took him down with a takedown. David really opened up with five knees to the body plus multiple punches and an elbow in his limited time on top.
While the first two rounds were close, the third round was almost all Machida. "The Dragon" stuffed every takedown attempt from Davis with relative ease, avoiding "Mr. Wonderful's" more aggressive output on the feet as well. While neither fighter landed that big game-changing shot, Machida outlanded Davis for the first time and even briefly had top position on Davis after stuffing a takedown attempt.
When it came time for the judges to make their ruling, most watching had scored the bout for Machida, but the judges unanimously sided with Davis via scores of 29-28 across the board, which caused outrage in the HSBC Arena.
For Lyoto Machida, while many media and fans sided with him on their own personal scorecards, he still has no one to blame but himself. His output was lacking in the first two rounds and he gave Davis just enough room that a takedown and resulting ground and pound was a big enough factor in the judges' eyes to hand the American the round. Machida had no business letting the stand-up exchanges be close, yet once you factored in the ground strikes, he actually got outstruck by Davis in the first two rounds.
Sure Machida finally turned it on in the third (and one incompetent judge actually gave the third to Davis), but at that point, he'd already dug himself a hole. I initially gave all three rounds to Machida, but upon multiple viewings, the second round probably went to Davis and the first was really close depending on how many shots you think Machida landed during his blitz. Needless to say, he could have done so much more.
Next up for Machida could be a wide variety of options. A fight against Alexander Gustafsson would be very interesting if the Swede loses his title shot next month. Another option is a drop to middleweight where he'd be a fresh face in the title picture against the likes of Vitor Belfort or Michael Bisping.
For Phil Davis, lost in the "robbery" outcry was the fact that this was the best he's ever looked inside the Octagon. The Alliance MMA fighter's striking was much better, even if he didn't measure up to Machida in the overall stand-up, and he was able to at least hold his own without getting embarrassed, something most fighters can't say. He also made the most of his takedowns with the limited time he had, particularly in the second round when he dished out about 15 significant strikes in less than 20 seconds.
Even if you didn't think he won the fight, he deserved to be in there against the former champion and he at least held his own.
There are a couple options for Davis next. He could face Mauricio Rua should "Shogun" defeat Chael Sonnen. Another option could be welcoming Daniel Cormier to the light heavyweight division if UFC doesn't want to give "DC" and immediate title shot. Last but not least, if the UFC feels Davis needs more seasoning, he could draw someone like Thiago Silva, who's a sturdy test for any fighter.