Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UFC 283: Looking back at five defining fights of ‘Shogun’ Rua’s career before his expected retirement

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will fight for the final time of his legendary career on Saturday night when he faces Ihor Potieria at UFC 283. Rua’s retirement will end a career that has spanned more than two decades and almost entirely consisted of fighting on the world’s biggest stage.

After just five pro bouts, the last of which saw him suffer his first defeat, Rua debuted for PRIDE FC. In the goliath Japanese promotion, Rua rose to a position as one of the best 205-pound fighters in the world before a transition to the UFC, where he became world champion.

In celebration of a great career from one of the best light heavyweights in MMA history, let’s take a look back at five defining fights from the career of “Shogun.”

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Akira Shoji (PRIDE Bushido 1 — Oct. 5, 2003)

Rua made his big stage debut against PRIDE mainstay Shoji, who had battled Renzo Gracie to a draw in the promotion’s debut event and piled up 17 fights in the PRIDE ring before meeting Rua. Those fights ranged from the normal to battles with monsters who dwarfed his 5-foot-8 frame, such as Mark Coleman and Semmy Schilt.

Shoji bull-rushed Rua to the ground in the opening moments of the bout and was nearly caught in a kneebar as Shoji looked to bring the fight to a quick conclusion. Rua was able to escape the hold before introducing the world to the soccer kicks that would become a defining move of his time in PRIDE. Shoji would get yet another takedown off of a missed Rua kick and a third takedown shortly after Rua worked back to his feet and landed a few punches. Shoji even briefly managed to get to mount before Rua escaped yet again, this time landing a fight-ending barrage of punches before one final stomp to the downed Shoji to bring the fight to a close.

Shoji was far from the top talent or biggest name Rua would fight in his career, but it was an announcement that he was likely to be a big player in PRIDE’s middleweight (205-pound) division. And Rua’s use of soccer kicks and stomps would play a part in four of his first five fights in the PRIDE ring.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (PRIDE Total Elimination 2005 — April 23, 2005)

Rua rattled off three more wins before gaining entry into the prestigious PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. He was given anything but a light touch in the opening round, getting matched up with Jackson, who had dominated competition in his PRIDE run with the exception of middleweight kingpin Wanderlei Silva and tricky submission wizard Kazushi Sakuraba, who submitted Jackson in a wild fight in Jackson’s PRIDE debut.

After his second loss to Silva, Jackson got back in the win column by beating Rua’s brother, Murilo, before the start of the tournament. The win over Murilo was a controversial one for Jackson and Mauricio was out to gain revenge for his brother, in addition to advancing in the tournament.

The fight was largely a blowout for Rua as he utilized a clinch to control Jackson, land knees to the body and head and even score takedowns. Less than five minutes into the bout, another barrage of Rua knees sent Jackson slumping down the ropes where Rua finished the fight with a series of soccer kicks as Jackson’s head went between the ropes. At just 24 years old, Rua was officially locked in as one of the best fighters in the division.

Ricardo Arona (PRIDE Final Conflict 2005 — Aug. 28, 2005)

After beating Jackson, Rua defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a fantastic fight that could absolutely deserve a spot on this list (more on this later). That fight advanced him to Final Conflict, the night that would see both the semifinal and final rounds of the Grand Prix tournament. In his first fight of the night, Rua scored a brutal ground and pound knockout of a pre-heavyweight Alistair Overeem to advance to the finals where he would meet Ricardo Arona, who defeated Wanderlei Silva in the other semifinal bout.

Rua countered the strong wrestling game of Arona, who was clearly the more fatigued of the two fighters, before following up a missed stomp with a series of nasty hammerfists that turned out Arona’s lights and secured Rua the tournament championship.

Storming through the Grand Prix tournament was the moment where Rua completely turned himself into one of the world’s best fighters. Wins over Jackson, Nogueira, Overeem and Arona in a five-month span is arguably the most impressive run in the history of the sport.

Lyoto Machida (UFC 113 — May 8, 2010)

Rua’s PRIDE career saw him lose only one fight in 12 trips to the ring, which came when he suffered a broken arm against Mark Coleman. His highly-anticipated UFC debut did not go well, with a gutsty Forrest Griffin scoring a late third-round submission. Rua would rebound with TKO victories over Coleman and Chuck Liddell to secure a title shot at Lyoto Machida at UFC 104.

Machida escaped the fight with a unanimous decision win that ranks on most lists of the worst decisions in UFC history. A rematch was only natural and it came at UFC 113 and Rua responded in a big way.

Rua again tried to rely on leg kicks, a strategy that was highly effective in the first meeting, but that the judges did not reward on the scorecards. However, it was an overhand right that would be the fight-deciding strike. Rua lashed out with the punch as a counter, dropping Machida and finishing him with ground and pound.

Despite the Grand Prix victory, the win over Machida was the first — and only — time Machida held a world championship.

Dan Henderson (UFC 139 — Nov. 19, 2011)

Rua dropped the title in his first defense, running into rising superstar Jon Jones at UFC 128. This would kick off a 3-6 stretch for Rua that saw him tumble from the top of the light heavyweight mountain. Buried in that stretch, however, is one of the great fights in UFC history. At UFC 139, Rua stepped into the cage against fellow MMA legend Dan Henderson.

Despite being a non-title bout, the fight headlined the event and thus was scheduled for five rounds. The two veterans packed nearly every second of the 25-minute war with action.

Henderson bloodied and dropped Rua in the first round only to see Rua come back with his own knockdown shot as the two just began warming up for the rounds to come. The ensuing rounds saw more knockdowns, big shots, takedowns and near-finishes, mostly from Henderson before the final two rounds. But Rua, badly bloodied for most of the fight, roared back in the fourth and fifth rounds, repeatedly putting Henderson in danger, gaining mount multiple times and coming very close to scoring a stoppage in the final round.

Henderson would ultimately get the win, taking narrow 48-47 scorecards across the board, but the grit shown by Rua in an epic war certainly added to his already fantastic legacy. The pair would run it back in 2014, again putting on a great fight, though one Henderson was able to finish with strikes in the third round.

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