Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua was a measley two months away from his 26th birthday when he made his UFC debut at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California back in September of 2007. Considered one of the world's best fighters, Rua's youthfulness and path of destruction laid during his rise in PRIDE combined to create a feeling that he would ascend the ranks and vie for the title. Nobody imagined that his challenger on that night, Forrest Griffin, would derail his chances immediately.
Griffin outlasted Rua's advances and finished the PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix champion in the third round by rear naked choke, shocking fans and lending support to the idea that PRIDE's best weren't as good as we perceived. Rua's focus was questioned following the loss, and many fans accepted any excuse laid out in front of them. It was assumed that Rua would bounce back emphatically. After all, he was only 25 years old and had plenty of time to make his mark.
Wins over faded legends Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell catapulted Rua into a title duology with Lyoto Machida. Rua arguably won the first encounter at UFC 104, but the judges awarded the outcome to Machida. The rematch that followed seven months later was more decisive. Rua knocked out Machida in three minutes and thirty-four seconds to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
His status as the UFC light heavyweight kingpin was short-lived however. Jon Jones, who experienced similar hype to Rua's as a young fighter, burst into the upper reaches of the division, crushing Rua in a title showdown at UFC 128 in March. It was a role reversal that nobody saw coming back in 2007, and it has created an uncertain future for Rua.
Rua may have avenged his loss to Forrest Griffin this past weekend at UFC 134 in Brazil, but it doesn't erase the thoughts of his demise at the hands of Jones. Rua, who will turn 30 in November, is in a precarious situation. He's stuck, stuck in a predicament that runs parallel with the stories of Rich Franklin and Jon Fitch. What will happen to Rua if he's tossed to the wayside by Jon Jones once again? Is he marooned in the upper-echelon of the division with no title chances in sight?
Rua isn't quite there yet. He still needs to battle for contention, and two choices come to mind. Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans. Evans will likely fight the winner of Jones-Jackson, and Rua could potentially fight the loser. Perhaps Dan Henderson's name will surface as well. I'm not so certain Rua will escape the race for contention unscathed however.
Rua's performance on Saturday night was solid, but I can't get past the idea of Rua performing at an optimal level into his 30's. He's a hit-or-miss fighter at this point in his career, and that normally translates to a spiraling death in the latter stages of a career ala Chuck Liddell. If he manages to get another shot at Jones, I'm certain he'll meet his doom again, even if he's firing on all cylinders and 100% injury-free.
Where does that leave us? Four years ago, Rua was the man who was going to climb the mountain and reign supreme atop it for years to come. Today, he's climbing his way back up that mountain with a cane and a limp. If he happens to gain the opportunity to fight Jones again and loses, Rua's future will stall, similarly to Rich Franklin. Unless a move to middleweight is a possibility, the next year is do-or-die for Rua.