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UFC 113: Is Mauricio "Shogun" Rua Back To His Pride FC Self?
When Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was first signed by the UFC, many hardcore fans predicted that he would quickly take over the light heavyweight division. That didn't happen.
Such thoughts were hardly unwarranted since he'd already previously put a massive shellacking down on UFC champion Quinton Jackson.
Fans were shocked then, when Forrest Griffin put a whipping on the Pride FC star, spoiling his UFC debut.
Since then, Rua has put on two impressive performances that have got some people saying that the old Shogun from the Pride FC days is back. After watching some of his old fights in preparation for UFC 113, I've come to some different conclusions.
Before I get into my analysis, let's do a brief overview on the career of Rua.
Shogun In Pride FC
When Shogun fought in Pride, he was flashy, wild, and relentless.
Here's some wild aggressive muay thai and soccer kicks (allowed in Pride).
Here's Rua charging forward on Akira Shoji like a crazy maniac and then following with a head stomp (allowed in Pride).
Here's a nice flying kick combination against Jackson.
Here are some crazy tornado kicks.
These are some flashy and spectacular attacks.
Aside from having an arsenal full of flashy strikes, Rua also had an excellent ground game that included good passes, sweeps, transitions, submissions, and ground-and-pound.
More than just having an excellent arsenal, Rua was also able to keep up a relentless attack that would wear down his opponents and allow him to beat them into submission.
When Pride FC disbanded, Rua was considered by many to be the top light-heavyweight fighter in the world.
Shogun In The UFC
When Rua was matched up against Forrest Griffin, many fans, myself included, thought that Griffin was going to get badly overwhelmed.
Instead, the fight was extremely competitive, and ended with Griffin submitting Rua in the final seconds after pulling ahead in the second half of the fight.
This clip has since been used heavily in forums by Lyoto Machida fans, to go along with sentences like, "Machida would NEVER lose to Forrest Griffin."
Injuries would sideline Rua for more than a year, and when he returned against Mark Coleman, things weren't much better.
Here he is getting controlled by the 45 year old.
Here he escapes and stumbles away.
Then he gets jabbed in the face by Coleman here.
And gets jabbed in the face again here.
Shogun won the fight, but it was far from pretty.
Then after that he looks much better against Liddell.
Here he shows much quicker footwork and head movement as he retreats, and then he blasts Liddell in the side with a kick.
Here he shows off his some nice quickness on his takedown and a transition from back control to a leglock sweep attempt.
Finally, he finishes it all of with a beautiful lunging punch here.
And then of course, there is the fight with Machida where Rua uses his leg and body kicks to great effect, wearing down the champ over five rounds, yet losing a controversial decision.
So now that we've got that recap out of the way, we can start looking into the question that I think is most important, and most misunderstood.
How does a guy who convincingly destroyed Rampage Jackson get finished by this guy (the losing one):
and then jabbed in the face and severely tested by this guy:
but come back to beat Chuck Liddell and provide the stiffest of test possible for undefeated UFC champion Evans Lyoto.
The Popular Answer
The common answer, and the one that is used by the UFC commentators, is that Rua was struggling with knee injuries and ring rust that severely hampered him in his fights with Griffin and Coleman.
Then, according to this script, once Rua got over his injuries and shook off the ring rust, he was back to his old, dominating self.
This above interpretation is not necessarily accurate, in my opinion, but it will take a bit of explaining.
The Real Answer
I have no doubt that ring rust and injuries played a part in Rua's performances against Griffin and Coleman, but those explanations only tell a part of the tale.
What I have to say can be best divided into negative and positive thoughts on Rua's recent performances. Since I like to end on a high note, I'll start with the negative.
The Bad Side
Rua gassed out badly against both Griffin and Coleman, but I think it's silly to attribute that completely to injuries and ring rust.
The truth is that Rua gassing has a lot to do with the way the fights went down.
The fight with Griffin was fought at a frenetic and relentless pace. Griffin and Rua traded strikes, takedowns, submission attempts, and sweeps in what I thought was one of the greatest fights of the year.
Certainly Shogun fans were shocked that Rua lost, but it really wasn't that bad of a performance if we're thinking about it objectively and not in relation to our previous expectations.
Unfortunately, nobody ever seems to give Griffin any credit, and so when he actually does something really good, like the way he was able to neutralize Rua's ground game, people tend to write it off as something the other guy was doing wrong.
The truth of the matter is that Griffin fought a great fight, and because he's a cardio machine, he was able to wear down Rua with relentless pace.
The fight with Coleman was a bit different, but again, I think the actual way the fight went is overlooked.
Rua spent a fair amount of that fight working his guard game underneath Coleman. Coleman isn't exactly the quickest of fighters, so the fight wasn't really that fast-paced, but when Coleman is in top position, he can still force his opponents to expend a lot of energy.
Rua may have looked a half step faster in the Liddell fight, but even then, the fight was so short that Rua's conditioning was never really tested, so we never got to see what he would have looked like if he was dragged into the deep water.
All things considered, it's my opinion that in the Griffin and Coleman fights we were already seeing pretty much the same Shogun from Pride FC
He may have been a half step slow, and a bit out of shape, but it took a gutsy performance from Griffin to finally make Shogun lose, whereas he might have still won against a lot of other opponents.
The Good Side
When Rua fought Machida last year at UFC 104, UFC commentator Mike Goldberg was saying that we were finally seeing the old Shogun from the Pride days.
The Rua that fought against Machida was a whole new animal.
I've never seen Rua execute a gameplan as well as he did against Machida. Prior to the bout, I expected Rua to push the action and get knocked out when his hand combinations got countered.
Instead, what we saw was Rua executing a conservative strategy that involved picking away at Machida's stance from distance, as well as a number of smaller more specific wrinkles that helped him nearly dethrone the champ.
Of course, it's possible that Rua might have been able to execute this kind of strategy earlier in his career if he fought a guy like Machida, but we'd never seen it before, so the fact that he was capable of executing such a gameplan impressed me.
My Final Conclusion
Forget the old "Shogun" Rua, the new one might be better.
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