The main event that almost wasn’t but then was goes down Saturday night in Boston, as the UFC makes its FOX Sports 1 debut with a deep card headlined by Chael Sonnen taking on Shogun Rua.
It’s an interesting fight between two guys who are very close to their last chance at the top of the heap, and the loser may very well be relegated to gatekeeper status come Sunday morning.
If it’s his goal to avoid that label, here are some weaknesses Sonnen can exploit against Shogun.
It’s no secret that Shogun isn’t hard to take to the mat. He’s a skilled grappler once he gets there, particularly when discussing leglocks and sweeps, but putting him on the ground is relatively easy.
With the relentless pace and constant grinding for takedowns that Sonnen is known for, he’d be wise to focus on that area of the game. There’s no doubt he can take Shogun down, and only slightly less doubt that he can hold him there and beat him up.
It’s a clear path to victory for the Oregon native.
It may seem backwards to suggest that an offensive weapon—particularly one as intimidating as Shogun’s leg kicks—are in fact a tool the Sonnen can use to his advantage, but certain stylistic matchups allow for such happenings.
This is one such matchup.
Any good wrestler with enough training and cage time can become quite adept at catching any kick coming in above the knee. Once they do, it’s basically gift wrapping a takedown for them, and from there the guy on his back is in lots of trouble.
Think of guys like Frankie Edgar and Cain Velasquez, two wrestlers who have made catching kicks and returning fire with punches or shots major parts of their game.
While Rua’s kicks are among the heaviest in the sport, if Sonnen has been working on catching kicks and exploding through for takedowns during his camp, he could turn one of the biggest weapons in his opponent’s arsenal into a weakness he can exploit for his own benefit.
When was the last time you saw a Shogun Rua fight that didn’t end with his face puffy and bruised and his body covered in welts, win or lose?
Probably his second fight with Lyoto Machida, and that’s not yesterday.
The guy lives to get in a war.
For the clever opponent, that willingness to engage and come forward at all costs is a gift. If Shogun is willing to stalk Sonnen down all night, Sonnen would be wise to throw his underrated hands and set up powerful double-leg takedowns to score points and hunt the finish.
People love Shogun for the way he fights and his full-on samurai mentality, but, in the modern era where wrestling trumps all, that commitment to making it a fight is the exact thing Sonnen can use against his opponent.
It’s never a good bet to suggest that this time is the time Shogun is going to enter the cage in peak physical condition. More often than not, it’s a bet you’ll lose.
Shogun is notorious for coming in a little doughy and maybe with the gas tank not quite full, and, against someone known as the exact opposite in Sonnen, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Chael can tire Rua out with work against the cage and a steady diet of takedowns, and before long the Brazilian will be huffing and wheezing in between bursts of offense.
It actually doesn’t make him any less dangerous, as he’s used to fighting tired and has one of the more unwavering spirits in the sport, but any time you can tire out an opponent in a cage fight it has to be seen as an advantage.