Mauricio Rua vs. Anthony Smith headlines UFC Fight Night 134 this July 22, 2018 at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany.
One sentence summary
David: The man Daniel Cormier wants to fight next gets a tune up against a light heavyweight gatekeeper who may have a chance.
Phil: Shogun Rua attempts to build upon the longest win streak he’s had in the UFC, and catapult himself into title contention and boy does that prospect seem depressing.
Record: Mauricio Rua 25-10 | Anthony Smith 29-13
Odds: Mauricio Rua +180 | Anthony Smith -220
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: I’m kind of surprised we’re at this point. It’s like remembering that Arlovski’s still on a fight card. You know what used to be, and you know when it stopped being what it used to be. Shogun was once the heir to Wanderlei’s throne. Then things got lost in translation. Injuries and UFC competition demystified Shogun to a certain extent, but he got his groove back against Lyoto Machida. Then he lost his groove just as suddenly. Shogun is now entering his grumpy old man phase ala Dan Henderson or Bernard Hopkins. Unless you’ve exhaustively cased the place, don’t step on his lawn. Despite his obvious decline, the threat level hasn’t waned. He was 1-4 in his last five several years ago. He’s 3-0 in his last three. Rumors of losing all the muscle in his knees have not been exaggerated, but they’ve been wisely dictated.
Phil: Shogun has stepped through at least three discrete stages of physical decline in his time in the UFC, and has somehow put together the longest streak of his UFC career over his last three fights. Admittedly, some of this was questionable judging, but there was nothing questionable about his knockout over Gian Villante. What to think of him? Is this a heartwarming tale of a veteran managing to win even when his physical gifts are fled, with pure guile and experience? Or is it just a benchmark for how terrible the light heavyweight division is? I suspect it’s both of these things.
David: Good for Smith. Here’s a fighter who waged absolute warfare with Josh...Neer — yea that’s correct. Here’s a fighter who has been through some battles in the hardened terrain of Nebraska, and now he’s earned (however late notice) a spot against the UFC light heavyweight elite. And yes, I totally forgot that he’s been in the UFC for awhile. I didn’t forget his knockout of Rashad Evans though, so give me a little credit. Good win;; it’s impressive to see a corpse get knocked out (kidding; you’ve always been good to us, Rashad).
Phil: Anthony Smith has gained somewhat of a reputation as a euthanizer, sent out there to put the UFC’s beloved (or in the case of Hector Lombard, not so beloved) old dogs to sleep. The man himself is an enigma- one of the most ragingly insecure fighters I’ve ever seen step into the UFC cage, who gasses out, freezes up, and gets into audible in-cage discussions with himself and other fighters about how he deserves more respect. It’s oddly endearing.
What’s at stake?
David: Continued main card spots on cards like these, basically. These can be their own reward. They’re more likely to capture a fight night bonus, which automatically makes them better than a TUF “six figure contract.”
Phil: Cormier has said that he’d like to fight Shogun, who is “surprised and grateful” for the opportunity and I mean... yeah. What else is there to say, when an older guy who has been competing in your sport for less long than you have,clearly wants to fight you because he sees you as an easy, faded name win; a layup while he’s waiting for Lesnar to get back in the USADA testing pool. It’s a bit of a bummer.
Where do they want it?
David: One of the things that keeps Shogun going is his low key power. Well, it’s hard to call power “low key”, but Shogun is never mentioned as the facemelting power type. But he puts serious mustard on punches that sometimes look awkward (think the ridgehand he caught Liddell with), and so I think his lack of mechanics overshadows the mechanical strength. He’s not a very poetic striker, nor would I call him fluid, but he pressures with a certain grace, and it helps that he’s very good at general timing. He’s not a counterpuncher but he knows when to counter. He doesn’t blitz unprovoked, but he can provoke desperation from an opponent that allows him to blitz. He’s the kind of fighter who the good guy in movies describes as having “the scent of a shark.” Someone who can “smell your fear” and all that cliched nonsense. In Shogun’s case, it feels right. He’s a guy I can’t properly breakdown except to say he has great instincts for fighting. Funnily enough, I believe there’s an alternate universe where Shogun is a pre-Demian Maia type. It’s been said time and time again (often by us), but Shogun’s grappling used to be elite. It’s hindered in recent years by his loss of speed, but the fragments remain.
Phil: Shogun has gone through several transformations over his time in the UFC: Muay Thai kicker, top position grappler, and finally a kind of pressuring counterpuncher. Almost nothing he throws on the feet is pretty, but it’s informed by an innate sense of rhythm and distance honed over the years. His bodylock takedown game and leg kicks seem to be pretty much gone at this point, but he’s improved as a combination puncher, and his arsenal of ugly right hands has broadened from the winging shot he favoured against Liddell and Machida, and he’s become a much more effective counterpuncher. I’d even argue that he’s defensively more responsible than he used to be, with actual head movement built into his strikes. However, he’s still not exactly Floyd Mayweather, and this is more than counteracted by his decline in speed and durability.
David: Honestly, I can’t characterize Smith’s style much. Most fighters fight with a broad theme in mind. Mirko Filipovic wanted to dead you with his left leg. Nog wanted to choke you. Frank Mir wanted to rip the skin off your face and your lungs to cave in (hey, hey; his words, not mine). Smith’s style is something like a plate of half-boiled potatoes that needs salt with a ketchup bottle nearby. Pieces are there for sustenance, but how are you you expected to eat a full meal? Smith can throw knees, hooks, straight rights, teep kicks, and deliver violence in the clinch but they’re like ornaments in the hands of Smith. Take everything I said about Shogun’s instincts, and then reverse it all; that’s Anthony Smith. He has the instincts of a squirrel trying to pass a congested road. Good thing he’s tall, rangy, and knows there’s money waiting for him if he wins.
Phil: What is Anthony Smith good at? This, I think, is the interesting question. He’s a violent guy, but it’s hard to really say what phase he’s the most effective in, or how he really works. He has hard knees and elbows in the clinch, he throws a mean snap kick, and has a reasonably accurate right straight. At 6’4, he is no longer quite as disproportionately tall as he was at middleweight, but he’s still a big guy, and like many tall fighters his defense is absolutely atrocious, and often made worse by the way he gets inside his own head and freezes up. Unstructured, insecure violence is essentially at the root of Smith’s game. Is that enough against Shogun Rua? In 2018, it honestly might be.
Insight from past fights
David: You mentioned Smith’s insecurity, and never was that on fuller display than in his first fight with Josh Neer. His appearance of being hurt (seems like he was one part gassed, two parts trying to figure Neer out) became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they ended up just slugging it out against the fence. I wouldn’t advise that against Shogun, even if he was 60 years old, and on crutches.
Phil: Most of Smith’s bad habits were on display in his fight against Hector Lombard. Up against the infinitely shorter fighter, he allowed Lombard to beat up on his lead leg and to hurt him badly on at least two occasions. Only once Lombard had completely gassed himself out did Smith mount a comeback, and for all his many flaws in his more recent incarnations, gassing badly has not really been something that Shogun has done.
David: Do you think Lionheart was a well-thought out nickname, or did Smith and his corner just really like one of Van Damme’s worst movies?
Phil: Obviously Shogun’s age and decline, but I’m also curious to see if Smith’s defense and durability looks better at LHW. He’s gotten dropped repeatedly at middleweight, but the cut is clearly tough for him.
David: Even at Shogun’s point in his career, he’s still got things that should put him over the top of any tweener: power, and instincts. Not only can Shogun hit hard with an overhand right, he times his power right well, and he’ll doing so against a guy especially vulnerable to an overhand punch. Against a guy who legitimately doesn’t have a good chin. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see this as especially close. Smith’s offense isn’t even swarming at range. He probes, and probes awkwardly. Shogun Rua TKO, round 1.
Phil: I know I’m going to regret this, but I just can’t look at Smith’s defense and pick him. When Shogun has found openings over the course of his UFC tenure, he has been dogged in exploiting them, and in this case I think he can just land that big right hand on Smith over and over and over again. Relative youth and durability mean that I will be absolutely unsurprised if Smith gets an ugly, brutal knockout over him, but I’ll channel Tim Burke, and pick Rua’s improbable streak to extend by one more. Shogun Rua by TKO, round 2.