Mauricio Rua (center)/ Scott Petersen for MMAWeekly.com
Mauricio Rua entered the Pride circuit in 2003 with a humble 4-1 record at just 21 years old.
Despite being regarded as one of the younger prospects, Rua quickly solidified himself as one of the best fighters in his class, while setting himself apart from any other fighter before him.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Rua also wielded a devastating clinch, coupled with powerful punches, kicks and stomps to grounded opponents, which became a trademark of his.
Victories over Akira Shoji, Akihiro Gono, Yasuhito Namekawa and Hiromitsu Kanehara eventually led "Shogun" into the 2005 Pride middleweight Grand Prix—one of, if not the most prestigious event in mixed martial arts history, with the heaviest roster of talent to enter a tournament.
The 16-man field looked to be tough and arduous, though Rua seemingly breezed through formidable competitors with style. In the opening round, Quinton Jackson fell to the wily Rua, succumbing to soccer kicks in the first round.
Next, a fan friendly see-saw battle with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira commenced. Both men dropped each other in the first frame, though Rua's conditioning eventually led him to victory, as he took the decision win over his fellow countryman.
In the semi-finals, Rua took on the towering Alistair Overeem—a future K-1 and Strikeforce champion—stopping the Dutchman with strikes from the mount.
Finally, a pivotal battle between Rua and Ricardo Arona ensued. The submission whiz in Arona had just come off of an upset victory over then-middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva—who was a close friend and teammate of Rua's.
In an electrifying performance, Rua blasted through Arona, staving off takedown attempts and finishing off the Brazilian Top Team fighter with a grazing stomp to the face followed up by hammer fists, which left Arona out cold from the blows.
In less than two years time, Rua went from a relative unknown to arguably the best fighter in his division, a feat that mirrors that of current UFC champion Jon Jones.