UFC 104 Preview: Can Mauricio "Shogun" Rua Thrive Without Soccer Kicks?

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua thrived in Japan under rules that allowed him to soccer kick and stomp downed opponents.

Michael David Smith asks the question:

Look at the career record of Shogun Rua, and you'll notice something unusual: Of his 18 victories, two are listed as TKO-stomps, and three are listed as TKO-soccer kicks. That's unusual, of course, because stomps and soccer kicks are illegal in the UFC and other American promotions. Shogun became one of the best and most exciting fighters in the world in Pride, where stomps and soccer kicks were allowed, but as he prepares to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104, I've had a few fans ask me: Can Shogun become a champion under American rules?

Shogun's reliance upon stomps and soccer kicks was actually greater than you might think from hearing that he used them to finish five of his 18 victories: In other fights, such as his 2005 victory over Alistair Overeem, stomps and soccer kicks were an integral part of how he took control of the bout, even if they weren't the way he finished it. Stomps and soccer kicks were, quite simply, Shogun's best weapons, and he's now fighting under rules that take his best weapons from him.

I've been meaning to do a Judo Chop on exactly this topic, and if time allows, I still may.

Regardless, I'm glad MDS is raising the question. It's the obvious question about Shogun's adaptation to UFC rules. I've never thought steroids were that big a factor in his difficulties adapting. Other than blanket assertions that since PRIDE didn't drug test Shogun must have been roiding (as if drug tests really prevent PDE abuse), there's no evidence.

There is massive evidence that Shogun's two devastating knee injuries and the following major surgeries happened and that had to impact his performance. He's suffered the kind of injuries that ended a career less than fifteen years ago. The jury is still out on whether he'll ever be the same athlete.

But I'd argue that the different rule set and fighting area (cage vs ring) has had the biggest impact on Shogun's game. Chute Boxe, the legendary camp where Shogun learned his trade, thrived in the ring from the beginning. Whether it was Jose "Pele" Landi's legendary feud with BJJ ace Jorge "Macaco" Patino or Wanderlei Silva's legendary bouts, the Chute Boxe fighters positively fed off the chaos they could create in the ropes at the edge of the ring.

Tying up an opponent in the ropes while firing a barrage of knees, sprawling way past the ropes to stuff a shot, stomping a opponent tangled in the bottom rope were all hallmarks of the Chute Boxe style. Shogun was the ultimate product of the camp, the purest exponent of their style.

He used the ring to fullest advantage so it should be no shocker that he's had trouble adapting to the cage. His mentor Wanderlei Silva struggled in the UFC cage back in the 1990s (long before there was drug testing FWIW) and still has never matched his triumphs in the ring. It remains to be seen if Shogun will.

It's also an interesting commentary on different cultural mores of what constitutes socially acceptable sporting violence in Japan and the U.S. In Japan, soccer kicks are fine, but elbows are not because the Japanese don't want to see blood in their contests . In America we are apparently revolted by the unfairness and obvious dangerousness of kicking a downed man in the head, but we don't mind rivers of blood.

Some doctoral student should do a PhD on this and throw in the different rules of censorship in place for pornography in the two countries as well. In Japan they allow all kinds of acts Americans consider obscene but they pixel out the performers' genitals out of a similar squeamishness with bodily functions.

One last thing I want to say is this: I think it's not only valid, but important, that major league MMA fights be contested in at least two types of venues, if not more.

Dealing with logistics and adapting to differing environments are essential elements of combat strategy in all forms. In warfare it's always been a given that some armies thrive only in their home terrain (mountain, jungle, steppe, etc) while others learn to adapt and conquer many kinds of territory. The fact that from its modern inception MMA fights have been contested in two main environments (the cage, the ring) has given the sport a true frission of unpredictable reality. I hope we can continue to see this in the future.

Tennis wouldn't be the same without its alternating surfaces -- grass, clay, hardcourt. MMA needs both rings and cages to truly remain a test of martial arts. The more fighters adapt to a single surface and lose their ability to adapt, the more we're playing a game rather than testing skills and strategies in a realistic simulation of fighting.

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