I admit it, I wrote Shogun Rua off.
Two years ago, when the UFC announced that Lyoto Machida's first Light Heavyweight title defense would come against Mauricio Rua, I scoffed. What a waste of time. Lyoto was an unbeatable striking machine, while Shogun was far past his prime. Sure, the UFC hype machine could say he had back to back wins over Hall of Famers, but no amount of hype would get me to believe those wins over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell were impressive, to say nothing of the Forrest Griffin loss. No, Shogun was merely another Pride washout, the latest in the line of stars unable to make the transition to the UFC.
Then, over the course of 25 minutes, Shogun Rua absolutely proved me wrong. He turned in the single greatest technical performance of his decorated career, figuring out Lyoto Machida and pushing the champion like no one had pushed him before or since. When he was handed the controversial loss in that fight, he did not wilt in defeat, but came back stronger, putting an emphatic exclamation mark on his performance with a one round KO victory 7 months later. Through those two fights, Shogun Rua redeemed himself in a shocking and impressive manner
Even more impressive? Last night, at UFC 134: Rio, Shogun redeemed himself again.
Heading into his semi main event fight with Forrest Griffin, a lot of fans were doubting Shogun once again. Our staff predictions had the two men dead even, while betting lines tended to slightly favor Shogun, but the overall tone was that he could be in trouble. Our own Brent Brookhouse called his UFC career "a disappointment" and potentially "one of the great busts in MMA history".
Wrong. Instead, Shogun Rua, for the second time, came back from severe adversity to win. For the second time, he proved to critics that he is still not done. For the second time, he found his redemption.
It's understandable that fans again started to write him off. After all, he was coming in off a crushing defeat to Jon Jones where he looked completely out of his league. But just as he did after the bumpy start to his UFC career, Shogun came back strong.
We can lament the loss of the "old" Shogun all we want - and make no mistake, this is not the old Shogun. But we also can't ignore the very real UFC accomplishments of the new Shogun. This new Shogun is the man who solved Lyoto, who KO'd the elusive champion, and who emphatically stamped his superiority on the face of Forrest Griffin in Rio.
Already there are criticisms. "His movement was bad." "This says more about Forrest than it does about Shogun." "He still is overrated." And let's be fair - these are all valid criticisms. But don't ignore what else we learned last night: Shogun Rua is a champion. He has found himself in the depths of loss, in a place where many fighters have mentally and physically thrown in the towel, and he has pulled himself back up and out of that hole. And he's done it twice.