Rua, Machida post big UFC wins in Fox show

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Rua, Machida post big UFC wins in Fox show

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Former champion Lyoto Machida stopped Ryan Bader with one punch midway through the second round of the UFC's latest prime-time network show Saturday night, getting a knockout that might have earned him a chance to reclaim his title. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua stopped Brandon Vera in the main event with a flurry of strikes with 50 seconds left in the fourth round for another dramatic finish. After the fights, UFC President Dana White said Machida had earned another light heavyweight title shot with his sudden victory. White promised a shot at the winner of champion Jon "Bones" Jones' bout with veteran Dan Henderson next month to the fighter who was most impressive at Staples Center, although the date could be tough to keep immediately. Machida (18-3) had the light heavyweight belt until Rua took it from him with a first-round knockout in May 2010. Machida failed to reclaim the belt last December from Jones, who stopped him with a standing guillotine choke in Toronto for the formerly formidable Brazilian's third loss in four fights.

Machida looked impressive again in flattening Bader (14-3), who also has lost to Jones. "I think it was a great performance, and I want to say, the Dragon is back," Machida shouted, citing his own nickname. Machida needed just one big right hand 90 seconds into the second round to knock out Bader, who spent the first round warily staying outside Machida's dangerous karate-based style. Machida picked apart Bader to win the opening round, and when Bader attempted to close the distance, the Brazilian star ducked slightly and apparently rendered Bader unconscious with a punch square to his face. White hyped up interest in the Los Angeles show by claiming he would choose the next title contender from this bunch of fighters with significant recent defeats on their records. The UFC could be more interested in matching Jones against welterweight star Georges St. Pierre next year, but Machida did everything possible to get back on a title track. Earlier, Joe Lauzon ended a thrilling bout with veteran Jamie Varner by securing a triangle choke midway through the third round. Mike Swick also returned from a 30-month octagon absence for a second-round knockout of DaMarques Johnson. Rua (21-6) survived a grueling fight with the veteran Vera (12-6), bouncing back from multiple spots of trouble and pushing through fatigue that slowed both fighters midway through the scheduled five-round bout. Rua finally got rid of Vera with a series of strikes that began with a precise right hook to Vera's jaw. Vera's mouthpiece apparently came loose, distracting him moments before Rua finished him with a few more strikes to celebrate his first victory in nearly a year. "I'll improve, but you'll see my best for sure in the future," Rua said. "The most important thing is a victory. I respect Brandon a lot. It was a good fight. I was a little tired from the second to the third round, more than I expected." Rua lost his light heavyweight title to Jones in his first defense in March 2011, and Rua lost again to Henderson last November in a five-round brawl. Varner was a last-minute replacement opponent for Lauzon, a reliably entertaining Massachusetts fighter who still had lost three of his past six bouts. Varner is a former WEC champion who returned to the UFC with an upset victory over Edson Barboza in May. Although Varner controlled the entertaining first round, he couldn't keep up later with Lauzon, who rallied with strikes that set up superb ground work ending with his legs cinched around Varner's neck.

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Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers

Kelly Oubre shows signs of development on both ends vs. Blazers

The development of a talent as raw and intriguing as Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. rarely happens overnight. Usually it's small steps along the way that ultimately add up to a finished product. On Monday afternoon against the Portland Trail Blazers, there were two things Oubre did that may qualify as significant signs of progress.

First, on the offensive end. The Wizards blew out the Blazers after getting off to a scorching hot start in the first quarter. They scored 37 points in the first and 75 in the first half, both season-highs. Oubre helped lead that charge with 10 points of his own in the first quarter on 2-of-3 shooting from the field and 4-of-4 from the line.

He kept it going in the second quarter with a bucket just over a minute in that saw him go around Evan Turner with a crossover. Oubre went right, dribbled behind his back and got to the rim where he finished with contact. 

Oubre, 21, has shown this season he can knock down threes, finish on the fastbreak and scrap for putbacks in the lane. But beating a man off the dribble is a sign of young player growing more confident in his ability to put the ball on the floor.

"He's working on it. He knows that's not his greatest strength," guard Bradley Beal said. "Now he's perfecting it a little bit. He's using it to his advantage. He understands that he's knocking down more threes, so teams are going to run him off the line. He knows that he can now use his athleticism to get to the basket versus having to force up a tough one. He's got a pretty good package going for him. His three-ball is falling and he's starting to put it on the floor, which is even better."

[RELATED: Head-to-head: Wall and Beal best Lillard and McCollum]

Oubre finished with 18 points, just one off of the career-high he set against Bucks on Dec. 10. He finished 5-of-8 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. His three threes matched a career-best.

But defense is where Oubre may have taken another step on Monday. Sensing he has a player with unique versatility on the defensive end, head coach Scott Brooks decided to deploy Oubre on Blazers superstar guard Damian Lillard in the second quarter. 

Oubre helped limit Lillard to just 6-of-17 shooting and his contribution was the product of something Brooks had wanted to experiment with.

"Kelly did a great job of getting in his handle and making sure that he didn't get anything easy when Kelly was guarding him in that second quarter," Brooks said.

"I'm definitely exploring it. I'm just trying to find ways that he can impact the game defensively... when he's locked in, he can guard multiple positions. I've been trying to experiment to throw some more point guard responsibilities on him defensively. Nothing against the other guys. It just gives a bigger player on a scoring point guard. I thought he was really good on Lillard."

[RELATED: Beal: "Our fans are awesome and we feed off of their energy"]

With more minutes offered, Oubre has helped improve the Wizards defensively this season. Brooks has often gone with lineups featuring both Oubre and Otto Porter along with John Wall and Beal. He feels those four can easily switch between guarding multiple positions.

This strategy took that to another level. Now Oubre was being asked to guard the smallest and fastest guy on the team.

"I can guard whoever on the court, honestly. That’s how I feel. Whoever they ask me to guard I’m going to guard them, take the challenge and have fun with it," he said. "Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league. I think I did a solid job of that."

Oubre won't figure it all out in one afternoon against a struggling team, of course. But his teammates and coaches have pointed out certain times this season where it was obvious to him that he was showing improvement. Monday was one of those times.

"He's steady growing. He's constantly turning into what we want him to be and the kid that we drafted him to be. We just need him to continue to be aggressive," Beal said. 

"I think the biggest thing is that he's definitely transitioned with his humility. He's grounded. He's always wanting to get better. He works hard and it's showing on the floor."

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Blazers]

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Defense separates Wall and Beal from Lillard and McCollum

Defense separates Wall and Beal from Lillard and McCollum

From the start of the season, John Wall had been lacking on the defensive end as he rounded into shape from surgeries to both knees. Bradley Beal, for the most part, has been solid. Monday, with both playing at maximum capacity, what they can be on both ends was on full display in a blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Before the 2016-17 season tipped, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum would've slotted ahead of Wall and Beal among NBA backcourts. They were coming off a surprising 44-38 playoff run. The Wizards missed out after finishing 41-41. 

Wall and Beal owned their head-to-head matchup on Monday, combining for 49 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and five steals in less 29 minutes each. 

"When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams get to collapse when I am penetrating and just finding guy and moving the ball very well," said Wall, who was playing with protection for his right pinkie finger. "Guys are knocking down shots and shooting with confidence."

Beal earned his game-high 25 points on just 11 shots. Wall had his 24 on 17 shots. Kelly Oubre was 3-for-4 on three-pointers, Otto Porter 3-for-5, Beal 3-for-3 and Wall 2-for-3. 

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win over Blazers]

In all, the Wizards shot 13-for-23 from long range (56.5%), had an 18-8 edge in fast-break points. Lillard and McCollum combined for 34 points on 11-for-29 shooting. 

McCollum picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter, unable to stay in front of Beal who kept his dribble alive to attack the seams. Lillard scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half when he was held to 5-for-14 shooting.

"They're aggressive. Wall does a good job of setting the table for everybody," McCollum said. "They run a lot of floppy (actions), a lot of transition, he's pushing the tempo," McCollum said. "He's aggressive in transition looking for his shot as well. They're very good. Very good team."

The Blazers turned over the ball eight times in the first quarter to help the Wizards (21-19) get out to a 10-0 lead. They were too late to stop the floppy actions that Beal uses, curling off baseline screens to create separation to get off his shot. They didn't switch properly to take it away. They relied on the guard to lock and trail but it was unsuccessful, too. 

Washington got all of the shots it wanted. Portland did not, with Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee being forced into taking shots out of their wheelhouse instead. Even if they were to make them, it's better than allowing Lillard and McCollum to get their shots in their comfort zone.

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Blazers]

Marcin Gortat didn't have a great game on the offensive end for himself, only with six points on 3-for-9 shooting, but his support to clog the paint negated dribble penetration.

"It was our defense," Beal said. "It was probably our best overall game defensively, for a full 48, and that's why we won."

A year ago, the Wizards lost both games to Portland, including an embarrasing one on MLK Day. And after Lillard went for 41 points and 11 assists at Moda Center, he was nationally hailed as a better point guard than Wall. While Lillard is a better shooter, but there's more to the position than points in a boxscore. Wall and Beal are better defensively than Portland's backcourt.

"He's had a very good season. He pushes it. He gets to the rim. He can shoot perimeter jump shots," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Wall. "It though he was good defensively."

Lillard and Wall will have their moments against one another. A good game nor a better single season proves anything. The Wizards have a 1-0 edge in the season series, and having the better team usually results in more recognition. The Blazers dropped to 18-25.

"John started the game very well," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "Locked in, engaged defensively and not giving him any easy feelgood shots because when you give a great player a feelgood shot all of a sudden it's hard to stop him."

[RELATED: Tomas Satoransky after double-double vs. Portland]