In 2005, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was a man who would not be denied.
He took the Pride FC middleweight division by storm, defeating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to claim the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix title, not to mention the mantle of greatest middleweight in the world.
He was pure Chute Boxe, cut from the same cloth as stable-mate Wanderlei Silva, and he was young to boot.
The world was his oyster, and he was devouring it all with relish.
Hard to believe that in 2013, Shogun is 3-3 in his last six bouts in the UFC.
Since he handed Lyoto Machida his first loss en route to claiming the UFC light heavyweight title, Shogun has lost every other fight. His last bout was a decision loss to Alexander Gustafsson, which was only two fights removed from Rua's war with Dan Henderson.
And on August 17 at UFC Fight Night, he’s going to fight a man who has the perfect style to defeat him: Chael Sonnen.
Make no mistake about it: This is a very winnable fight for Sonnen. His takedown game is still among the top of the division, and he’s gritty as hell. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Sonnen will take Shogun down every round and grind out a decision victory.
And that could be costly for Shogun.
Right now, he’s a man at a crossroads in his career. If he wins, his name regains some of that luster, which is all important.
If he loses, given the depth of the division, his name is going to be mentioned in the same sentence as the phrase “gatekeeper.”
That isn’t to say he couldn’t turn his career around. He’s only 31 years old with a wealth of experience.
But a loss to Sonnen would drop him many rungs down the ladder. And worse, it would make him look far older than he is.
When you consider the names in the division—men like Henderson, Machida, Gustafsson, Phil Davis, Glover Teixeira, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans and reigning champion Jon Jones—Shogun is on the outer edge as it is.
He’s already lost to four of the Top 10. If Sonnen, a man who hasn’t posted a victory at light heavyweight in many years, manages to defeat him, Shogun would suddenly look like a man waiting at the bus stop.
Yet still, there is something about Shogun—something raw and dangerous. Every single victory he has earned in the UFC has come via KO/TKO. This fact makes him watchable, no matter how many fights he loses.
Will that be enough to keep him in the UFC should he lose to Sonnen? It probably would, given that White would hate to see Shogun added to the Bellator roster.
Still, posting more losses than victories hurts a fighter in the UFC. In the world of boxing, a big-name fighter like Shogun could get some tune-up fights to rebuild his career. He does not have that option under the Zuffa banner.
Many committed fans know Shogun and won't be quick to write him off, but the public at large is fickle.
Add to that the amount of attention a fight with Sonnen draws due to the American's gift for gab, and a loss would be a public affair. A fighter never wants to look powerless for 15 minutes, and being trapped under Sonnen for that long is not the image Rua wants to send to the millions of Fox viewers.
So, where would a loss to Sonnen leave him?
For starters, it would leave him looking vulnerable to up-and-coming fighters who would love to build a name out of his ruin. As far as the buying public is concerned, he would be barely visible—just out of the corner of their eye.
When you examine Sonnen, he is a basic fighter, nearly one-dimensional. He’s just so good at takedowns and maintaining top position that he doesn’t need to do much more to win.
If Shogun loses to that species of fighter, then he is going to be forced to re-examine his skill set and make some changes. He will have lost five of his last eight, and at that point, ignorance is no longer bliss.
All fighters go through periods of change; those who can adjust see a return to winning ways.
He already had to fight hard as a young man to get into the spotlight. He doesn’t want to wage that kind of war again as an older man.
If he doesn’t want to go back to the drawing board, Shogun needs to beat Sonnen.