It is hard to believe that Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a man seen by many as the future of the light heavyweight division in 2007, has lost six out of 11 fights in his UFC career. Once an explosive and unpredictable fighter, Rua is now looking slower and more hittable than ever before, like a man a beat behind the music.
Add to that the degree of punishment he has taken since losing his title to Jon Jones in 2011, and you have a fighter who really cannot afford to receive more damage than he gives.
I know, I know, it sounds terribly disrespectful to say such things in that tone, and you know what tone I am talking about. We hear it most often from people who talk dismissively about a fighter’s career without ever really having seen it. To give such fighters their proper due seems to take the fun out of being a critic.
But I have seen the career of Shogun, and it was glorious. And now we are seeing that the saying is true: The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and Shogun’s candle burned so very, very brightly.
I remember when news broke that the UFC had bought Pride. When I first read it, I thought it was some epic joke. Then I read it again, and again. It was everywhere you looked, and as soon as I reconciled the fact that the UFC had more money than I thought, another realization hit me.
A lot of those Pride fighters are going to be coming to the UFC.
That alone was an exciting moment, never mind the fact that Fedor Emelianenko eluded the Octagon. It wasn’t soon after that Dana White began to announce some big signings: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic, Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
It was one of those moments where fantasy and reality seemed to collide in improbable ways. We were used to seeing Shogun flying all over the place, soccer kicking people in the head, kneeing them in the face, soccer kicking them in the head, dropping hammerfists across their nose, soccer kicking them in the head; you get the idea.
But he was going to be fighting in the UFC, so the whole boot-to-the-head of a downed opponent thing wasn’t going to fly. What was he going to look like in the cage without all those weapons that made him so famous and fearsome?
As it turned out, he looked pretty good after his first loss and the surgeries that followed. He had a big 2009, stopping both Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell via TKO before dropping a unanimous decision to then-champion Lyoto Machida in what many considered a robbery.
He was given a chance at a rematch in 2010, and he put a stamp on it this time, knocking Machida out in the first round and claiming the UFC light heavyweight title at the same time. Given that he wasn’t even 30 years old, the future was looking pretty bright for the man called Shogun.
And then Jon Jones came along and gave him a two-degrees-of-separation-from-Randall-“Tex”-Cobb-versus-Larry-Holmes-sized ass whuppin’, and suddenly he was the former UFC light heavyweight champion, just like that.
Shogun would bounce back from this loss, defeating the man who defeated him in his UFC debut, creaming Forrest Griffin in the first round, and looking like he just might be gearing up for another run at the title.
And then came Dan Henderson, who, for damn near three rounds straight pounded the hell out of Shogun. This wasn’t your average loss that sees one man defeating another in a passive contest; not even close.
This was one man defeating another man by the closest of margins in a fight that leaves both men looking like they were shipwreck victims, fighting to the death on their raft over the last can of SPAM before the rescue chopper picked them up.
I shudder to think how badly they would have hurt each other if they had met in Pride. They near killed each other without knees and soccer kicks to the head of a downed opponent. Had those rules not been imposed, they probably would have had to transport each man to the hospital in a sponge.
As bad as that beating was, Shogun still looked impressive and in truth, he gave Henderson a good number of lumps as well. He also showed incredible heart in staging that comeback in Rounds 4 and 5. Nearly any other fighter would have been looking for another line of work after UFC 139, content in the fact that they had gotten to do something most fighters do not—be involved in a Fight of the Year.
But not Shogun. He took some time off and jumped right back into the saddle, stopping Brandon Vera via TKO in Round 4. He didn’t look great in that bout, but he won, and sometimes winning is more important than impressing.
But since then, he’s dropped back-to-back fights, losing a unanimous yet spirited decision to Alexander Gustafsson and then getting quickly choked out by Chael Sonnen in just about 13 seconds of the opening frame.
Now, none of this is to say Shogun isn’t a great fighter, because he is. But the simple fact remains that he took some hellish damage in his fights with Jones and Henderson, his body (especially his legs) has been put through the wringer, his competition is just getting younger and bigger, he’s getting slower and older and, lastly, his style of fighting is predicated on taking shots to land shots.
This coming Saturday, December 7, he will be taking on James Te Huna in a fight that may very well be the most telling bout of his career. Te Huna is equal to Shogun in age, but he hasn’t taken nearly the same level of damage; nearly all of his losses are via first-round submissions.
Granted, even this version of Shogun should be good enough to best Te Huna, at least on paper; there is a skill deficit between them that cannot be denied. But once again, we return to the fact that Shogun employs a style that is not based around the idea of safety or defense.
Could Te Huna catch him with a shot and end the bout? Yes. Te Huna has won 10 out of his 16 victories via KO/TKO, and given that Shogun is in no way, shape or form an elusive fighter, Te Huna has a puncher's chance for as long as he remains upright.
Now, if Shogun wins, I firmly believe he should take some time off to do everything within his power to rejuvenate his body, much like Arturo Gatti had to do before his second career resurgence that helped him win the trilogy with Micky Ward. If the fountain of youthfulness cannot be found, then perhaps the next step is to adjust his style of fighting so fist and face are not on the front lines at the same time.
But if he loses, I honestly believe he should consider retirement, and there would be no shame in it.
He’s done so much as it is: He won the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix, and he won the undisputed UFC light heavyweight title. Both of those accomplishments are incredibly impressive alone, but together they are remarkable.
He has also been involved in the Fight of the Year for 2011: a feat that most fighters can only dream of. There are many excellent fighters out there. Few of them see themselves tested in a way that is recognized as a Fight of the Year; few of them capable of enduring the pain that is required of such a privilege.
And as glorious as the combative sports are, they are still very much about pain. Should Shogun lose and decide to retire, no one could say he hasn’t suffered enough for his position in history.
And we will have been so very lucky to have seen him at all.