UFC on Fox 4 Judo Chop: The Weaknesses of Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua

In a previous edition we examined the strengths in the striking of 205lbs all time great, Mauricio Rua - more commonly known as Shogun. In that piece we examined Shogun's excellent kicks, into which he turns his whole hip, making them some of the most powerful and technically beautiful kicks in mixed martial arts and certainly the UFC. We also discussed Shogun's looping punches - which are not technically sound, but which are used to catch opponents while they are leaning or stepping in to strike. Finally we examined his running left hook - or cheat punch left hook - wherein Shogun loads his left leg and throws a left hook while stepping forward with his right - covering huge distance and generating great power.

In today's Judo Chop we will cease lavishing praise on the powerful Mauricio Shogun and instead turn our attention to some of the faults in his striking. While many of Shogun's lackluster performances have been excused by his fans on account of injuries and lay offs, the weaknesses in his striking game are present throughout the films of his entire career and have been exploited in his losses. While he was hurt early on by an unexpected flying knee against Jon Jones, Shogun's most recent loss, to Dan Henderson was almost entirely of his own doing as Henderson pulled away at the loose threads in Rua's sloppy technique. Using that fight we will examine the flaws that have always existed in Shogun's game and which allowed Henderson to put a savage beating on the Brazilian great.

To summarize the weaknesses of Shogun's striking game, they are his:

- Lack of Boxing Form

- Overconfidence

Lack of Boxing Form

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. Here is a fantastic example from Shogun's meeting with Dan Henderson, demonstrating just how easily Shogun's lack of a jab can be exploited.


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.

It is possible to overlook Shogun's leaning his face forward, his head being bolt upright and his uppercut swinging in from down by his knee. All of that would have been much less of an issue if he lead with a jab. Notice that from the start of the sequence to the end of the sequence Henderson is looking straight at him. Not only does the jab serve as a deterrent to keep the opponent on the offensive, it covers their vision. If Shogun had jabbed he would have:

  • Hit Henderson if Dan had simply attempted to counter the same way,
  • Hidden his own right hand so that Henderson could not see where it was coming from - making Dan more reluctant to simply throw the counter right hook as Shogun's jab was retracted.
  • Allowed Shogun to step closer to Henderson and know that he was in range, without diving in face first.
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.
I highly recommend finding and watching this fight again because aside from being an excellent war and show of heart by both men, it also highlights just how little Shogun jabs and how often he dives in face first. Even when he throws his excellent kicks, he relies entirely on speed, never throwing the jab first to keep his opponent on the defensive. His reliance on speed over good technical form and strategy is likely to be one of the major reasons that he looks so much poorer since his knee surgeries - Shogun simply doesn't have the strategic and technical base to fall back on now that his body is failing him. Eventually, in the third and fourth round, Shogun began to throw jabs, but it seemed more out of desperation as he failed to connect or follow up on the jabs.

Mauricio Rua's flaws all stem from the same delusion that cost Wanderlei Silva several matches and forced his brother Murilo Rua or 'Ninja' to retire. That problem is a willingness to simply run in and think that putting in the hours in training and having the better striking pedigree will win him exchanges. Against Henderson this was extremely costly. During the Countdown to UFC preview most were astounded to hear Shogun say that he had been working almost exclusively on his boxing because he felt his hands were faster than Henderson's.

Not only did Shogun choose to punch with Henderson, but he didn't do anything to take away Henderson's best and only weapon - his right hand. To "box" Henderson would be to:
  • Circle away from Henderson's right hand - because Henderson stands so side on that he cannot left hook from his stance without squaring up first.
  • To jab and hook as Shogun stepped away from Henderson's right side
  • Then attempt right straights when Shogun was a suitable distance from Dan's right side and Dan was forced to turn to face him.
  • Failing that - landing the left hook inside of Henderson's right hand as Jersey Joe Walcott did to Rocky Marciano in their first bout, or as Ray Robinson did to Gene Fulmer would have also been an excellent strategy - but we'll talk about that nearer to the time of Dan Henderson vs Jon Jones.
Shogun had so many weapons on which his fundamental form was much better than Henderson's - round kicks, push kicks, his left hook - but he instead chose to trade right hands. Shogun's overconfidence in his striking has always been there, but his speed and power carried him through. His bout with Quinton Jackson is an excellent example as Shogun walked straight to Jackson at the opening bell and simply started swinging. The same is true of his fights with Akira Shoji and Akihiro Gono, he simply overwhelmed them because they lacked the speed, power and unorthodoxy that he possessed. Rua has never owned good footwork, and while he moves his head well when he wants to, he rarely makes a habit of it, furthermore the only punches that he throws are looping and he leads almost always with the right side of his body.

If this sounds like a particularly harsh critique of a man I was touting as one of the best strikers in MMA, I apologize. Rua is extremely good at what he is known for. The kicks of Shogun are as beautiful and violent as any in the sport and he can land them on offense, or as a counter (a rare skill in MMA and incredibly effective), and his hands are heavy and fairly fast. When he uses his legs to damage his opponents and make them adjust he can often catch them with hard punches, as he did against Machida, but his belief in his own boxing ability is severely misplaced. There was absolutely no reason that against a man as predictable as Dan Henderson, Shogun could not have used his excellent kicks to soften the older man up and catch him by surprise with punches later on.

Shogun's attempting to brawl with Henderson was not even a one off; Shogun was still fast enough to destroy Forrest Griffin in their rematch while using terrible, brawling form. The sad truth that Shogun has always relied on speed and power and he has never learned how to enter and exit safely. At his best, against Quinton Jackson, Shogun simply walked in over and over behind his looping punches - it is hard to see this strategy working against even the Rampage of today who simply covers and throws the left hook in response to everything (V). Even in his legendary match against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira it was more Shogun's insane durability, speed and power that carried him through against the slicker boxer while being tagged with counters (G). While I sincerely doubt Shogun will lose to Brandon Vera, if he continues to have a misplaced belief in his boxing ability he will find himself someway down the line getting beaten up by another fighter who we could never have imagined out striking him.

Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers in his ebook, Advanced Striking.


Look out for news on Jack Slack's new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.

Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.

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