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Will the UFC Light Heavyweight Division Championship Shuffle Continue?

It's been a long long time since the UFC had a dominant champion in their marquee 205lb division. More than three years to be exact, since Chuck Liddell's incredible seven fight run at the top was stopped by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in May 2007. Since then Jackson (one two title fight wins and done), Forrest Griffin (one and done), Rashad Evans (one and done) and Lyoto Machida (one plus one controversial decision and done) have all won and lost the belt.

Now Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the man who was anointed the future champion of the division back in 2005 after winning the PRIDE GP holds the belt. He's set to face Rashad Evans for his first title defense. While Shogun is a hugely dangerous and well rounded fighter, he's got one gap in his skill set: wrestling.

As BE commenter BigDNotDallas pointed out in the following comment, that might be bad for Shogun against Rasahd:

Top level MMA is all about match-ups and styles. Machida is a very bad match-up for Rashad because Machida is quicker, faster, a much more technical striker and has world-class takedown defense. His speed and movement allow him to dictate where the fight goes, but his takedown defense and clinch dominance are more a result of his sumo training (and his takedowns from the clinch use a mix of sumo and judo). Machida's skillset is one that Rashad is highly unlikely to overcome.

By the same token, Rua's skillset causes Machida problems. Rua has evolved since his PRIDE days, both in the prep / game-planning areas AND in his in-control striking. One could see glimpses of how Machida could potentially defeat Rua in the 2nd fight - using the clinch and takedowns. Machida's problem on the ground is that he lacks the wrestling ability need to impose top-control against someone who's BJJ cancels out his own (and he lacks the physical strength to control simply by overpowering Rua).

Much like Machida is for Evans, and Rua is for Machida, Evans is a bad match-up for Rua. On the feet, the quicker, more technical Rua would win rather easily. But as the GIF sequences show, Evans' functional (MMA-centric) wrestling has improved greatly over what he has shown before. And for all of his strengths, Rua has shown to be fairly easy to take down, perhaps due to over-confidence in his BJJ (or just a lack of wrestling).

Only a very high-level functional wrestler with pretty good sub defense is likely to be able to both keep him there and avoid being submitted. Previously I thought Rashad's functional wrestling was not quite at that level, but after this fight I am not so sure about that. His BBs in BJJ should give him sufficient sub defense, although I have not personally seen much of that yet. Rua does also have good sweeps, and the biggest weakness in Rashad's wrestling imo is his base when he is in top control.

And if Rashad beats Shogun and Machida beats Rampage in their expected bout, that could put Lyoto Machida in a compelling position to demand a rematch with Rashad for the title. Rock. Paper. Scissors.

For those who are skeptical of Evans' chances against Shogun, take a second look at King Mo vs Gegard Mousasi. While Mousasi certainly isn't quite at Shogun's level, his skill set is comparable. He's got good Muay Thai and is strong off his back. Shogun is likely quite a bit better at both aspects of the game, but I still expect Evans to be able to put Shogun on his back. Only time will tell if Mauricio "Shogun" Rua can fulfill the expectations he's been carrying for half a decade now and finally emerge as a dominant champion.

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