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One of the most discussed figures in MMA, Mauricio Shogun Rua is somewhat an engima. He has beaten top strikers such as Lyoto Machida on the feet, but also succumbed to one-note sluggers such as Dan Henderson and Forrest Griffin. He uses advanced techniques and brilliant kicks, but gets caught with simple counters that rookies are able to avoid. Clearly there is a lot to be discussed with Shogun's striking technique, and I hope I can bring some light to his game.
"Shogun" burst onto the MMA scene with a respectable performance at the IFC "Global Domination" Tournament, going out in the second round to a more experienced Renato Sobral. After this performance as a newcomer to mixed martial arts, Rua found a home for himself at the fledgling PRIDE Bushido show. In Bushido 1 and 2 he brutalized the respectable Akira Shoji and Akihiro Gono with the infamous Chute Boxe soccer kicks which he became known for. While soccer kicks (or "football kicks" as I prefer to call them) were a common feature of Shogun's fights under the PRIDE banner, he also proved to have devastating clinch work, kicks and punches on the feet, as well as a highly respectable ground game. Indeed, Rua was able to use an omoplata to remove himself from underneath Ricardo Arona (G), who himself is famous for his no risks approach to top control, before Rua pounded him out with hammerfists (G).
It is easy for MMA fans to be confused by where Shogun should be ranked in his division or even (for those particularly bothered with flogging a dead and pointless horse) in pound for pound rankings. It is also easy to forget that Mauricio Rua is very much an imperfect fighter. Granted he has stunning kicks, great power in his strikes, phenomenal ground and pound and excellent Jiu Jitsu skills, but he also suffers from a lack of wrestling skill, a sloppy boxing game and a massive overconfidence in his own striking skills. For every textbook gameplan he implements against a great striker such as Chuck Liddell or Lyoto Machida, he will fight a terribly stupid fight against a less skilled striker such as Dan Henderson or Forrest Griffin.
In today's article we will focus on Shogun's:
- Magnificent kicking skill
- Looping power punches
In the next installment we will look at Shogun's:
- Lack of boxing form
- Overconfidence in exchanges
No analysis of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua would be complete without a look at the kicking skills for which he is so respected. Mauricio Rua, having trained Muay Thai from his teens, has grown up kicking the pads almost every day and as such has arguably the finest Thai style roundhouse kicks at the highest levels of MMA. Where Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva use reserved, snapping kicks into openings, Shogun's kicks have the power and bodyweight behind them for him to comfortably throw them at his opponents arms or legs without a visible opening.
The roundhouse kick of Shogun is truly beautiful to behold when he does it well. One instance of Shogun implementing an excellent kicking game was against Chuck Liddell. Here I will re-use the stills that I used in an earlier article. While the picture quality is extremely poor, you can still see Shogun's back foot pivoting on the ball of the foot to point almost backwards as the kick is completed. This allows Shogun's kicking hip to turn all the way through. These kind of kicks are far more committed than those routinely used by Anderson Silva or Jose Aldo - who routinely perform kicks where they hold their kicking hip back so as to retract their leg as soon as it lands. This means they are hard men to take down off of their kicks, but lack the enormous power of Mauricio Rua.
Mauricio Rua's style is to fight from a slightly shorter stance than punchers such as Liddell do, primarily for the reason of stepping out with his lead leg to create momentum for his kicks. Throughout his match with Chuck Liddell, Shogun was able to land overhands by hiding them with the same set up step, and to further hide his kicks by occasionally performing them on the spot in a jumping style pivot, though still while turning his hip all the way through (G).
Undoubtedly Shogun's finest kicking performances and indeed the best showings of his career were his two matches with Lyoto Machida. Machida's JKA karate style is to back peddle whenever the opponent attacks, until they are over committing to chasing, and then diving in with his head off line for a rear hand counter and a massive collision. It is a style that I have studied under many of the best JKA karateka in the world at the Japan Karate Association honbu and one that is uniquely frustrating if you don't know how to deal with it. Shogun's answer to Machida's elusiveness was to back him up with swinging punches and connect a low kick on whichever leg was leaving his range last. No matter how far Machida backpeddled, one leg would always be in front of him, pushing him backwards - and it was this that Shogun exploited so ruthlessly. (G)
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.
Looping Power Punches
Mauricio Rua has some pretty heavy hands on him when his opponents are daft enough to stand in front of him. While Lyoto Machida won their first meeting (which was pretty evenly matched aside from the low kicks, Shogun ate a lot of counter punches), it did more damage to Machida than good. Machida came into the second match desperate to decisively finish Shogun, and what we saw was not a sensible, cerebral Machida, but a hurried and impetuous one. Shogun began working with the low kicks immediately and much more frequently than in the first bout, before Machida landed the best blow of the fight - a springing knee. Unlike the rest of Machida's career up to that point, he did not step back and begin feinting and frustrating Shogun again. Instead, Machida stayed in the pocket and leaped in with a punch. Shogun's boxing is pretty sloppy, but he is at least used to trading punches, Machida is not and so Machida found himself eating a looping Cross Counter. (G) Forrest Griffin suffered much the same fate in their rematch, though he had no other way in which he could fight. Shogun also used his overhand as a lead against Mark Coleman (G).
Notice in the above stills that Shogun routinely uses the same inside slip and right hook to catch opponents coming in. It's not hugely scientific, but it's powerful and with the low level of striking in MMA it still pays huge dividends. In the top two stills Shogun slips inside Machida's left straight and lands his punch over Machida's arm - this is a Cross Counter. In the bottom two stills, Forrest Griffin, already a remarkably slow light heavyweight, leads with his right hand, giving him next to no chance of landing first as Shogun slips and throws his trademark right hook into the side of Forrest's head.
Another variation of looping punch that Shogun likes to utilize is a huge, over-egged uppercut which swings from right down by his hips. Shogun likes to try to catch people coming in with this. He succeeded against Griffin, and was able to use it against a Mark Coleman who was struggling to stay upright (G).
Notice that as Griffin comes in with a probing jab and his chin extended, Shogun swings an uppercut in from down by his right knee. This connects beautifully on Griffin but shows hints of the sloppiness we'll discuss in the next installment. Against Dan Henderson, Shogun attempted this over and over again without a set up and continued to eat overhands for his trouble.
Shogun's final dangerous looping punch is his running left hook. When a step forward is taken with the right leg while punching with the left arm it is what one of my coaches used to refer to as a "cheat punch". I am incredibly fond of cheat punching because of the distance it covers and Shogun's left hook is an excellent example of this. He is also able to get a full hip turn on his left hook which would otherwise be a very short motion. (G)(G)
Shogun squares his hip as it to throw his overhand or more likely his right kick (given the distance) then dashes in behind the left hook. He doesn't offer land flush with this technique, instead using it to run into his right kick as he did against Machida earlier in this article, but when it does land flush it's a hard punch.
Next time we will look at the glaring weaknesses in Shogun's striking game, his inconsistency, and assess his place among the great strikers in MMA.