Despite the similarities between Alexander Gustafsson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, they’re drastically different fighters.
Both strikers by trade, Gustafsson uses an expansive space to deliver devastating combinations. "Shogun," the shorter man, prefers to plod forward and uncork big, looping punches and precise uppercuts inside the pocket.
Both men have heavy hands, but Rua should be the harder striker. He’s proved fully capable of rendering foes unconscious with a single strike, while Gustafsson typically needs to put a few shots together to send his competition to the canvas. Both men dish out leg kicks with the impact of a baseball bat.
Again, the major difference between them comes down to range and whether or not Rua can blast his way inside of the pocket. If he can, he stands a great chance of slowing the movement of the promising Swede. When Rua plants a leg kick on the thigh of his opponent, it does damage.
The mystery surrounding this specific fight resides in the area of experience. Typically, I’d pick a man with twice the experience to win a fight so closely contested on paper. But "Shogun" is an interesting specimen who’s seen his momentum as a fighter slowed due to countless grueling battles and a trio of knee surgeries.
That said, "Shogun" cannot be counted out of any fight. Few experts picked the former Pride ace to oust the profoundly technical former champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida, yet he arguably did enough to win a decision in their first fight at UFC 104 (which Rua lost on points, much to the chagrin of fans). In the rematch, he completely starched "The Dragon" at UFC 113.
If there’s one question mark in Rua's game, it’s his consistency.
Sometimes, he looks like a wild animal; other times, he looks like a shot journeyman. On Saturday night, he’ll need to perform at his best to bump Gustafsson from title contention.
In order for Rua to shock audiences and prove he’s still an elite 205-pounder, he’s got to be in Gustafsson’s face from bell to bell. He’ll need to use his leg kicks to position himself to land those heavy hands.
It won’t be easy, but if Rua can inflict damage to the legs of Gustafsson, he’ll level the playing field by negating the Swede's reach advantage.
If "Shogun" can successfully use his kicks to chop away at Gustafsson in the opening round, his chances of success increase astronomically. He need only slow the footwork of the Swede to connect with a fight-ending punch.
Even if he doesn’t turn off Gustafsson’s lights with a single shot, he can and most likely will finish the fight if he can floor the 6’4" prospect.
"Shogun's" killer instinct is still unrivaled in the division.
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