Former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua (19-5) will step into the Octagon on Saturday night in front of a sellout Brazilian crowd at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro to battle Forrest Griffin (18-6) in a rematch of their UFC 76 encounter back in 2007. Griffin tapped Rua by rear naked choke with only fifteen seconds left in the fight after surviving an early cut from the former PRIDE champion in the previous encounter. Four years have passed, and the two will meet again in a showdown that will likely have implications on the title picture.
This isn't a fight that has the same aura as their first encounter however. Griffin was still a mid-level fighter attempting to break his way into the upper crust of the division when they first met. He wasn't overly technical on the feet or on the ground, nor did he have any proof that his chin was made of granite. The only intangibles that mattered were his immense size in the weight class and his gritty determination to succeed.
Rua was considered the best light heavyweight fighter in the world when he finally signed with the UFC. His path of destruction underneath the PRIDE banner was renowned, and most fans assumed Griffin would be another body to stack onto the pile. A bad knee, the distractions of marriage, whatever reason you want to make for Rua, Griffin took it to the former PRIDE champion. It was one of Griffin's most defining moments.
Fast forward to today, and we see a very different demeanor from Griffin. His pre-fight interviews have been filled with frustration, mostly due to his displeasure of traveling to Brazil, but there is a sense that Griffin isn't fighting for the glory anymore. Will that lessened drive hurt him on Saturday night? It's possible. I have a feeling, however, that once Rua attacks, Griffin will awaken.
Rua isn't suffering from the distractions that sunk him in their first encounter. He was humbled by the loss, and his destruction at the hands of Jon Jones in March should provide enough purpose in this fight to finish emphatically. Mentally, it's as if Rua is in Griffin's chair from the first encounter and vice versa for Griffin.
On paper, Rua still has all of the technical skills to win this fight. He's a solid Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student. explosive on the feet, and diverse in his attacks from range. His quickness will be a key early to cutting down Griffin's forward progress and power, and I'm convinced that he'll aim to exploit Griffin's overly aggressive striking in the toe-to-toe exchanges.
Griffin can win if he makes this a dogfight, pressing Rua's conditioning to the max and tiring the former champion to the brink of exhaustion. Griffin talked about weathering the storm early, and I think he can do that if he sticks to what he's improved upon in his stand-up game. Patience is key. He won't want to stick to a range striking strategy for long however. He'll need to move to the clinch and tire out Rua at some point.
I don't think it will be enough however. Rua has always rebounded from injuries and lackluster performances, and he usually rebounds impressively. The Mark Coleman fight was an anomaly, I will admit, but I can't go against Rua's offensive prowess on the feet. I think he picks apart Griffin's base with kicks, opens up his defenses high, and uncorks some impressive offense by the second frame, finishing Griffin via TKO.