Few fighters will ever accomplish as much in their division as Mauricio Rua has in his. Shogun's career has been full of ups and downs, top level striking performances and swinging like he doesn't know what he's doing, but Shogun has had so many truly spectacular moments that is is certainly worth counting down a few ahead of UFC on Fox 5.
Outgrappling Ricardo Arona
Ricardo Arona is a fighter whom many fans will have been happy to see fade into obscurity - from thumbing Kazushi Sakuraba's cuts and eyes, to slapping an opponent in a grappling match, to simply laying on many of the opponents that he beat Arona was an unpleasant fighter to watch. Ricardo Arona's list of accomplishments, however is pretty significant:
- He became the first fighter to beat Wanderlei Silva at 205lbs in PRIDE
- Arona made a good case at being the first man to beat Fedor Emelianenko way back in RINGS in 2000. Arona took down and laid on the Emperor to the point where modern scoring criteria would have awarded him the win.
- Arona won three ADCC grappling titles - two in the 88 - 98 kg bracket and one at openweight. This is in no way an easy feat.
Shogun met Arona in the final of the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix after Arona had eliminated Shogun's mentor and Chute Boxe figurehead, Wanderlei Silva. After a brief stand up period where very little took place for either man the two tumbled to the mat with Arona moving to top position. Before Arona could even establish his position Shogun was moving into a smooth omoplata which he used to escape from underneath Arona.
Blitzing Quinton Jackson
Quinton Jackson was a fan favourite in PRIDE and certainly an elite PRIDE Middleweight having defeated Ricardo Arona, Murillo Bustamante and Chuck Liddell among others. Coming off of a terrible decision win over Shogun's brother, Ninja which many believed to be a robbery, Jackson met Shogun in the first round of the PRIDE 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix.
From the opening bell Shogun was simply relentless as he forced Jackson to cover with heavy punches before quickly grabbing Jackson in a double collar tie to land a hard knee to Jackson's floating rib - reportedly breaking it. From here Shogun swarmed all over Jackson who never really got into the fight. Rua repeatedly used knees to the body to hurt Jackson and this, along with Jackson's second loss to Wanderlei Silva, cemented the idea that Jackson struggled in defending strikes in the clinch.
Shogun has always been the epitome of a fast starter and this matched extremely well with a seemingly lethargic Rampage. The finish of the fight is incredibly memorable as Jackson falls in the corner and receives multiple kicks to the face before the referee calls the bout off. Gifs of that HERE and HERE.
Outstriking Chuck Liddell
I can point to two occasions in Shogun's career where his striking technique and strategy were more responsible for his success than his punching power, chin and speed, and this is one of them. Where Shogun normally dives in wildly behind his right hand and throws kicks seemingly at random - in his bout with Liddell, Rua put on a masterclass. Where normally Shogun was predictable and one dimensional in his striking offense - here he set up his kicks with punches, used kicks to counter Liddell's forward charges, and showed easily the best upper body movement we've seen from him to date.
Where Shogun would usually stand and block punches on his forearms - getting beaten up in the process - Shogun dodged and weaved from Liddell and gave the big punching veteran the respect and sensible strategy that he deserved. Check out this gif to see what I mean.
This fight and the Machida bout (the other notable example of Shogun using a sensible gameplan and showing decent striking form) both stand out because Shogun made the opportunity to use his kicks repeatedly. Shogun has perhaps the hardest kicks in the upper echelons of MMA, yet throughout his career he has thrown them seemingly at random - often getting taken down as a result. When Shogun makes the opportunities to kick safely and often, he comes close to reaching his true potential.
Diving Punch on Overeem
Though he is often thought of as a striker, Shogun actually came to the foreground of PRIDE as a great ground and pounder. Many of Shogun's favourite techniques are outlawed under U.S. rules, such as the soccer (or 'football' to the rest of the world) kick to a downed opponent, knees to the head on the ground and stomps. This didn't prevent Shogun from giving one of his finest ground and pound performances under U.S. rules in his PRIDE 33 rematch with Alistair Overeem in Las Vegas.
After several minutes of back and forth action, Shogun found himself in Overeem's guard. Standing and avoiding an up kick from the lanky Dutchman, Shogun threw Overeem's legs aside and dived back into Overeem's guard with a hard punch. Overeem was stunned by the punch, turned away and Shogun finished with strikes. Stills can't do the punch justice, so I'll just link to the video and the gif.
Out Striking Machida
No list of Shogun's greatest moments would be complete without mention of his cracking of the Machida riddle. For those of you who don't understand just how Shogun did it, it's pretty simple. Every time Lyoto backed up he left one leg behind. So Shogun would run at Machida with strikes and as Machida backed up chop out his trailing leg. Watch the gif.
Here's what I had to say in my "The Striking of Shogun" piece.
Notice here how Shogun runs in with his trademark left hook "cheat punch" - stepping his right leg up to cover distance. From here as Machida is retreating, Shogun drives his lead foot forward to create momentum and plants it to serve as a pivot. Machida is driving back off of his lead leg, which is now straight (bottom left still) and Shogun connects on Machida's locked out right leg, punting it outwards and causing severe bruising which limited Machida's mobility as Shogun continued these dashes throughout the fight.
Of course this didn't protect Shogun from all the times that Machida didn't back up and instead chose to step in with a counter. Machida's ratio of retreats to counters is much higher on the side of retreats however, his counters are about efficacy more than quantity. This led to the bout being somewhat controversial as some wanted to score Machida's cleaner counter knees and punches over Shogun's more numerous low kicks. Ultimately despite losing the judges' decision, Shogun's strategy paid dividends in the best way possible as Machida fought uncharacteristically aggressively in the rematch and ran right on to a Shogun counter which never came close in the first bout.
Aside from the Liddell fight there are few other occasions that one can point to in Shogun's career where he has used his ludicrous kicking power on the feet as a means to break his opponent down over time. The first and second bouts with Machida marked a unusually sensible and effective approach to striking by Shogun which many hoped would carry through to this other fights. Unfortunately his fights with Brandon Vera and Dan Henderson were the exact opposite - as he simply waded in swinging.
Whether Shogun can reclaim some of his greatness and return to form against Alexander Gustafsson remains to be seen at UFC on Fox 5.