3 Improvements Chael Sonnen Needs to Make to Defeat Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua

Clinton BullockFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2013

3 Improvements Chael Sonnen Needs to Make to Defeat Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua

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    On Saturday, August 17, 2013, at UFC Fight Night 26, Chael Sonnen will face former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

    Irrespective of the outcome, Sonnen is set to return to the middleweight division thereafter. However, a win over a name opponent in Rua would raise the Oregon native’s stock and snap his two-fight losing streak.

    Nevertheless, deficiencies in Sonnen’s game have sabotaged his last four championship outings. Throughout the former NCAA Division I wrestler’s career, his shortcomings with respect to striking and submission defense have been repeatedly exposed. Sonnen’s inability to enhance his game in these areas has led other mixed martial artists to question the “American Gangster’s” heart.

    Unfortunately for Sonnen, his weaknesses play to his opponent’s strengths. Rua is a world-class striker, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and is renowned for his heart and in-Octagon wars. At UFC Fight Night 26, major adjustments need to be made to Sonnen’s game in order to defeat his opponent and former two-time world champion in Rua.  

The Stand-Up Game

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    At 27-13, Sonnen's strength lies in his wrestling. The 36-year-old is known for taking down his opponents and grinding out wins. This fact is exemplified by 16 victories that have come by way of decision.

    However, the former wrestler has, for the most part, faltered whenever he has been unable to impose his will and take down his opponent. This deficiency was especially noticeable in his fight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and former middleweight champion Anderson Silva (II).

    At UFC 159, in his championship bout against Jones, Sonnen charged forward and blitzed the champion with a barrage of punches. As soon as Sonnen was taken down, however, the matchup ended with vicious ground and pound, courtesy of Jones.

    At UFC 148, during the second round, Sonnen was unable to employ his takedown strategy that won him five rounds (Silva versus Sonnen I and II) against the champion. He ended up losing the bout, as Silva destroyed the American Gangster with an onslaught of devastating strikes.

    With only seven recorded knockouts to Rua’s 18, if improvements aren’t made to Sonnen’s subpar stand-up game, he may face an insurmountable challenge at UFC Fight Night 26.

Submission Defense

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    Sonnen’s inability to guard against submission attacks has plagued his career. Eight of the Oregon native’s total losses have come by way of submission. In fact, Sonnen wasted two opportunities to become world champion by submitting to his opponents.

    At World Extreme Cagefighting 31, in a middleweight championship bout against Paulo Filho, Sonnen found himself caught in an armbar. The referee stopped the bout with only five seconds left in the second round.

    However, Sonnen’s most infamous submission loss occurred against Anderson Silva at UFC 117. He was winning on all cards before being caught in a slowly-placed triangle choke. With just one minute, 50 seconds left in the bout, Sonnen tapped. His dreams of becoming world champion had given way to his submission defense deficiencies once again.

    Regarding the American Gangster’s questionable ground defense, Brian Mazique, of Bleacher Report, stated, “For a wrestler who lives and dies with his pressure and in-close contact, poor submission defense is a troublesome flaw.”

    At UFC Fight Night 26, Sonnen will not only battle a former world champion, he will also face a high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. Although Rua prefers the stand-up game, on August 17, a submission loss on Sonnen’s part would serve as no great surprise.

The Heart of a Champion

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    Sonnen has made a career out of grinding his way to decision after decision. In fact, most of his wins have come by judges’ favor. However, whenever the American Gangster wasn’t able to implement his typical takedown to ground and pound strategy, he has foundered.

    After missing a spinning back fist against the former middleweight champion at UFC 148, Sonnen fell to the canvas and folded in the face of a charging Silva. The 36-year-old did not recover fast enough from his fall, lost his second opportunity to defeat his nemesis and failed to become champion once again.

    At UFC 159, Sonnen faced Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship. Despite his profound wrestling background, he was taken down by Jones and pounded into submission. With the loss, Sonnen squandered away his third opportunity at a UFC world title.

    Leading up to UFC 159, Jones commented on his opponent’s “heart, soul and work ethic.” He stated:  

    Guys like Muhammad Ali, they said a lot of things that were bold statements. The difference between guys like Muhammad Ali and Chael is that guys like Muhammad Ali actually believe. No matter how much he tries to convince himself that he's gonna win this fight or that he's the champion without the belt; he just doesn't believe and that's why he comes up short in every opportunity he has to be a champion. He doesn't have a champion's soul, heart, work ethic. Nothing. 

    Conversely, Rua’s heart has never been questioned. He has engaged in all-out wars in Pride and in the UFC alike. Some of these high-octane matches include the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Brandon Vera and Lyoto Machida (I). His battle against Dan Henderson at UFC 139 was one of epic proportions and will not be soon forgotten.

    Regarding Rua, Sonnen recently cited his respect for the former champion. He stated:

    You know what? Rua seems like a really great guy. He's one of the few legends that are still fighting, and anytime you get old and you retire from the sport there's been an instant assignment of legend status. He truly is a legend; I admire him, I admire what he's done in the ring. He's good, he's not me, but he is very good.

    Admiration aside, on August 17, Rua is set to face off against the American Gangster. Given the amount of adjustments that Sonnen needs to make to his game to defeat the former light heavyweight world champion, it is more than evident that he will face an uphill battle at UFC Fight Night 26.