Is it possible for a man's UFC career to be considered a disappointment when he spent time with the championship belt around his waist and currently sits at #2 in the world? If so, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is that man.
Shogun fights this Saturday night at UFC 134: Rio, facing Forrest Griffin in a rematch of their UFC 76 clash. The night of the first fight it was Rua who entered the cage as arguably the number one light heavyweight in the world and a -265 favorite, only to be controlled by Griffin. Rua would gas badly in a fight he was dominated in and also suffer a knee injury which kept him out of action for almost a year and a half.
His return from injury saw him win an ugly fight over Mark Coleman. Coleman managed to have some decent moments during the fight and, again, Shogun appeared to tire badly as the fight wore on. It was such an uninspiring fight for the 2005 PRIDE Grand Prix winner that the usually even handed Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports titled his post-fight article "Rua rewarded despite atrocious performance." A quick knockout win over the faded and chinny Chuck Liddell shot Rua back into the good graces of fight fans and propelled him into a title shot against Lyoto Machida.
While the first fight with Machida is still considered "controversial" in that Lyoto won a very narrow decision, it was far from the robbery some insist. But a quick KO of Machida in the rematch won Shogun the belt and a spot as the #1 205'er in the world yet again.
The two Machida fights were, by far, the most impressive of Rua's UFC career but it's possible that he simply had the correct style to deal with the unorthodox game of Machida. It also was a good match-up for Rua in that Machida isn't a "pace pusher" who would test Shogun's questionable cardio. No one would suggest that Ricardo Mayorga was a better all around boxer than Vernon Forrest but something about Mayorga's style got him the win in both of their fights. So was this the "real Shogun" or was it just "styles make fights" in action?
Another knee injury meant another layoff for Rua before coming back to get dominated by Jon Jones. Yet again, Rua was devoured by the pace and versatility of his opponent's attack. While he managed to make it to the third round, it looked for much of the fight like the two didn't belong in the same cage..
After entering the UFC as the man considered by many to be #1 in the world, Rua has gone 3-3 with two of his wins coming over old and faded competition. He has suffered two major knee injuries and has repeatedly shown issues with his cardio. I'd argue that his current ranking at #2 in the world is a massive case of clinging to the memories of PRIDE. Either that or a single win of any substance (Machida) in the past four years is worth a lot more than I ever imagined in a very deep division.
Regardless of what he says about "not being worried about his knees" it is extremely common in the sports world to not trust your body after serious injuries, especially repeated injuries to the same muscle, tendon or joint. What part of his inability to fight like the non-stop whirlwind of violence he was in PRIDE is due to the injuries and what part is from the various other factors that come with fighting in the more tightly run UFC is up for debate.
What isn't up for debate is that heading into Saturday Night it is, as Yogi Berra once said, like deja vu all over again. Just like UFC 76 he faces Forrest Griffin. And, just like UFC 76, he comes in as a heavier than -200 favorite. And, again, he is ranked as one of the top two light heavyweights in the world. But this time around I hope fans have lowered their expectations for Shogun.
After all, if the fight plays out the way it did the first time around, it will be time to look at Rua's time in the UFC as one of the great busts in MMA history.