Where the Iceman stands
Chuck, is looking at a cross roads in his career (heck I'm tired of saying this, I said this before Liddell's last fight with Rashad Evans too!). The truth is, the Iceman has to thaw out his game and reinvent new fight strategies against today's fighters not yesterday's champs.
Since his defeat of Tito Ortiz in 2006, Liddell has not looked the same. Coming out in his fight against Rampage Jackson in 2007, Liddell attempted his usual game plan which is to stand in front of an opponent and let him throw punches and then counter attack with a superior punch, and walk home with the belt. But that was not what happened.
Rampage instead, pulled a "Chuck Liddell"...on Chuck Liddell. That is, Jackson threw a right hook to the face of Liddell as Liddell was throwing his own left hook to Jackson's body. The impact was devastating. The Iceman was shattered (enough ice related plays on words yet?).
Fast forward to our current fight, and as it stands, Chuck Liddell has lost three of his last four fights. Most disturbingly, his last loss against Rashad Evans (current LH Champion) was from yet another brutal knockout, the type where you don't get up remembering your name.
This is not a good sign for a man who's primary game plan involved his unnaturally ability to always knock opponents out when they were at their most vulnerable (throwing strikes while moving forward). Now, it seemed that Liddell was increasingly off his rhythm or just a step too slow.
Why Chuck's in trouble
Chuck is in fact seemingly aging before our eyes. His once legendary hands are not finding their mark. His footwork is now more of a plodding gait compared to younger faster fighters.
Liddell's preferred hand position considered "unorthodox" because they hover below his shoulders are now suicidally low considering his entire head is open to a variety of attacks he can no longer react to or is unable to stop because his hands are so low.
Why Chuck's got a chance
Conditioning. Three of Liddell's last five fights have gone into the third round. He won two of those three fights. Liddell always technically has a chance to win a fight due to his ability to end a fight instantly with one punch.
But in order to do that, he needs to keep from being either knocked out or taken down long enough to get his knock out opportunity. To do this Liddell typically features great take down defense as well as active hands to keep most shorter armed opponents away.
Liddell's conditioning means that many times his opponents suffer the worse of the punishment as they try to fight Chuck face to face or attempt a take down. This will be a very important factor in his fight against Rua.
Chuck needs to diversify his tactics. Against Wanderlai Silva, Liddell mixed in a variety of kicks, punches, and then even landed a take down. The result was, he managed to keep Silva off balance throughout the fight while also scoring valuable points which ended up giving him the victory.
Against Rua, Liddell faces an opponent who does not represent a sizable threat on the ground. Liddell should exploit Rua's reluctance to engage in a tiring ground and pound match with somebody who has heavy hands.
Where the Shogun Stands
Despite Mauricio Rua's 18-3 record, he's only 1-1 since coming to the UFC.
Slowed by a knee injury, reportedly an anterior cruiciate ligament rupture, Rua has had a rough time in the UFC being battered and eventually choked out by former LH Champ Forrest Griffin before barely beating the legendary Mark Coleman, with only 24 seconds left in the third round.
Those who watched Griffin vs. Rua, remember it mostly for Forrest's rise to prominence, more than for the ugly UFC debut of Shogun Rua, who was considered one of the best light heavyweights in the world at the time.
Hoping against all hope that Rua's shaky first UFC loss was a fluke, he was matched up against former UFC Champ Mark Coleman, who at 44 years old and moving down to light heavyweight was decisively showing the age now.
Sporting two knee braces and a body that wasn't as "pumped up" than it used to be, Coleman predictably gassed out early. Most observers assumed that Rua, only 28 years old currently, would easily dispatch of Coleman and send him off to retirement.
Unfortunately, the crowd was treated to nearly three rounds of two men, completely gasping for breath as they lunged hopelessly at each other , throwing fists that couldn't knock out my grandmother.
For Coleman, it was a reminder that time catches up to all fighters. But for the Shogun, it did not look good. Rua did finally "knock out" Coleman, or perhaps Coleman simply got so tired he took a nap, I'm not sure. But I'm not sure what to expect in from the Shogun's third and maybe final UFC match
Why shogun's in trouble
I think we all know that no respectable UFC fighter (and Chuck Liddell is certainly still respectable) is going to stand around slack jawed for three rounds while Rua summons the will from deep within himself to launch more than a sissy slap.
Despite Rua's abilities and fighting acumen, most of which he demonstrated during his Pride days, he has shown a disturbing preference to simply hang out in the ring and let whatever happens happen. This won't cut it.
Why shogun's got a chance
The guy is a real fighter. Yes, he's looked horrible in his last two fights, but switching from Pride to the UFC and then suffering a serious knee injury can wreak havoc on training, conditioning, as well as mental preparation.
Rua, while already an experienced and accomplished fighter, is still only 28, a relatively young age in MMA. There is still the chance that Rua, can overcome his recent injuries and regain the form that made him once a dominant fighter.
One needs look no further than Shogun's furious destruction of Rampage Jackson in Pride 2005, that left Rampage with broken ribs before being knocked out by kicks to the head.
Jackson, who many believe is one of the top contenders today, was no match for the offensive punches, knees, and kicks that Rua can deliver from inside and outside his dangerous clinch.
A healthy and motivated Shogun Rua is a dynamic and powerful fighter and if he is ready to start his comeback, he could also make it an early retirement for Chuck Liddell.
My take on the fight:
Perhaps one day, the Shogun will find his lost mojo, but I doubt it has happened during the past several months since he slept walked and gasped his way through his fight with Coleman. Chuck Liddell finds an ideal matchup here against a Rua struggling to find himself.
The Shogun doesn't yet have a good enough gas tank to outlast Chuck, nor has he regained the confidence or will to unleash the devastating knees and strikes we saw in earlier years.
I doubt Rua will have the smarts and tenacity to try and take the fight to the ground, where perhaps he might have a chance to launch some type of submission on Liddell.
In either case, I see this being a stand up fight, with Chuck coming out on the winning end being that Shogun recently has been too sluggish and too ill conditioned to finish fights early or late.
Chuck Liddell wins via TKO, second round.