How can Shogun go from out striking Chuck Liddell and Lyoto Machida with poise and grace, to swinging wild against Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera? Jack Slack addresses some of the issues with Shogun's game ahead of his bout with Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on Fox 5.
Mauricio Rua, mostly known as 'Shogun', is a fighter whom I have written about at great length in the past but remains one of the most requested figures for a technical breakdown. Many fans find Shogun incredibly confusing because he can go from out striking Chuck Liddell and Lyoto Machida with poise and grace, to swinging like an amateur against Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera. Of course with Shogun there are always the effects of his recurring knee injuries to consider and how they affect his conditioning training, but conditioning and shaky knees don't make a fighter completely forget how to fight.
In today's cheat sheet I will try to amalgamate some of the analyses that I have made of Shogun in the past, and use them to project some possible difficulties he and Alexander Gustafsson might cause each other at UFC on Fox 5 on December 8th.
Shogun's Cross Counter
Those of you who are familiar with my early writings will remember the pieces which I wrote on the Cross Counter and how it might be the most effective counter punch out there (spare perhaps the right straight inside of a left hook which Badr Hari used to drop Alistair Overeem). The cross counter is a right hook thrown with a dip to the left but it is not an overhand. The overhand is simply a swing at the opponent and is the kind that we see extremely commonly among MMA fighters - Leonard Garcia in particular has a significant history of violence against the air around him.
A cross counter is a counter punch, thrown with anticipation of the opponent being committed to a punch. Normally this will be a jab (because that is how most fighters lead) and the cross counter will travel across the jab and strike the jabber in the temple, hence the name. The same movement will work equally well, nay perhaps better, against an opponent who leads with a power punch - because they will be closer and more committed to punching with weight. Here are a couple of examples of Shogun using his right hook to counter his opponents coming forward.
In the top two stills Shogun ducks inside of a Machida left straight (Machida is a southpaw so this is pretty much the same as a cross counter for a jab) and lands an arcing right hand on Machida's temple while Machida's own punch travels over Shogun's shoulder. In the bottom two stills Shogun directly counters Forrest Griffin's attempt at a right hand lead. Timed well, this punch is almost a guaranteed damaging connection.
Shogun subscribes to much the same methodology that Glover Teixeira uses - walking forward and attempting to counter or lead with the right hook at every opportunity. Just like Glover, when Shogun's opponents can hang around past the first few connections, he starts to run out of ideas fast and begins to look very limited. Remember - any time that Shogun leads with a right hand and it isn't a response to his opponent punching, it isn't a counter, it is swinging wildly.
As I wrote in The Weaknesses of Shogun:
This should be obvious to most who watch Shogun fight, but to those who had never noticed it, Shogun lacks a jab. An excellent left hook, a vicious right hook and a brutal right uppercut are all excellent weapons in Shogun's punching arsenal, but they are always going to be naturally slower than the jab. Mauricio Rua has scarcely ever used a jab and even when he has, he has rarely used it effectively; more as an afterthought of something that he should be doing while looking for his big kicks, knees and punches. Shogun can throw a jab, as is evidenced by footage of him on the mitts, Thai pads, heavybag or even in sparring, it's more that he doesn't seem to understand the importance of it come fight time.
Shogun's desire to lead with a right hand at every opportunity has been responsible for him looking bad in his last two performances far more than his conditioning has. Because Shogun has grown up in the sport and is used to being faster and more aggressive than anyone he fights he has never learned basic strategy or even to use a jab.
Against Dan Henderson, Shogun's reliance on natural speed which just isn't there any more was clear. Check out this gif!
Notice that Shogun, in the first minute of his bout with Dan Henderson, is looking to uppercut Hendo while Hendo's head is offline and lowered in his crouching stance. Shogun and Hendo square off in the first frame, and in the second Shogun steps his lead leg forward and attempts to throw a right uppercut, eating Henderson's tight right hook as a counter. This isn't simply one mistake either, Shogun attempted the lead right uppercut throughout the fight numerous times - even landing it on a gassed Henderson later in the fight.
Leading with a rear uppercut is extremely poor form and boxing coaches (good ones at any rate) loathe it because it is such a high risk, low reward technique. Shogun has used this throughout his entire career and indeed, hurt Forrest Griffin with it, but Forrest Griffin is neither a fast puncher, a hard puncher nor a technically sound puncher. Henderson is, and that is why he immediately punished Shogun for such a foolish attempt. Shogun attempted to lead with a right uppercut later in the same round and was caught with a hard jab while his right hand was down by his knee.
The jab exists because there is a quite significant portion of space in front of a fighter which only the lead hand when extended fully can punch at. Shogun's constant attempts to lead with a right hand on offence, rather than as a counter, often lead to him running face first through that space.
It is worth noting that Alexander Gustafsson is at his most effective when his opponents chase him with wild striking, as the overenthusiastic Thiago Silva found out almost immediately in their bout as he chased Gustafsson with a lead right overhand and ate a beautiful uppercut for his troubles. Here's a tasty gif of that.
The Cheat Hook
It seems I've ended up talking about cheat punches a lot this week and I have received some requests to clarify my meaning. A cheat punch is a punch thrown with the lead hand, while combined with a step forward with the rear foot. This changes the stance and makes what was a jab a rear handed punch, while placing the puncher in a new stance and position in relation to the opponent. Alistair Overeem uses this technique a great deal, as did the late, great Benny Leonard in a variation known as "The Drop Shift" (but that is a story for another day).
Shogun's variation of the cheat punch is quite unique in that it is a left hook thrown with an almost completely extended arm. Ordinarily Shogun uses this to run into a kick as he did numerous times against Lyoto Machida. Notice how Shogun steps his right foot forward as his left hand hooks, then he steps his left foot forward again to kick. Here's another gif for you.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the entire purpose of this punch was to serve as a distraction, but Shogun's bout with Chuck Liddell certainly proved that he can get weight into this punch when he wants to. Watch this gif a couple of hundred times as I like to.
This cheat punch is a staple of Shogun's game and serves to set up his kicks beautifully. I have previously described Alexander Gustafsson as the poor man's Machida in his attempts to draw his opponent in (though he has much better boxing variety) - if an intelligent Shogun turns up to the fight, we could see him use this cheat punch to low kick combination to start chopping Gustafsson's legs out.
Conclusions & The Kicks
Shogun has had one of the most dramatic careers in Mixed Martial Arts history and has become a fan favourite along the way. This has led to a similar tendency with Shogun's losses as that which rears it's ugly head whenever B. J. Penn loses - a tendency to make excuses about Shogun's laziness or lack of conditioning rather than addressing the issue that he has significant technical and strategic holes.
Shogun at his best has outgrappled Ricardo Arona and outstruck Lyoto Machida - yet at his worst he has simply waded into Dan Henderson's fist over and over. In truth Alexander Gustafsson could be the man to get Shogun back on track - on the feet he is nothing that Shogun hasn't faced before. If the Shogun who stalked Machida and chopped away at his legs over five rounds turns up, Gustafsson is in trouble, but if the Shogun who had a hard time standing with Brandon Vera and swung wild against Dan Henderson appears, Gustafsson could pick up a big name for his record.
What this fight comes down to is whether Shogun can use the kicks that he has criminally underused for much of his career - or whether he will attempt to 'box' Gustafsson as he did with Henderson.
UFC on Fox 5 could well be the point where we stop talking about Mauricio Rua as an elite light heavyweight. His age has caught up with him, aided by his injuries, and he is not fast enough to fight sloppy and still pull out the win against top competition anymore. To truly stay relevant, Shogun must re-evaluate his technique and fight with a strategy because the luxury of a speed advantage is not on his side anymore.
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