Even before Mauricio “Shogun” Rua took the cage on Friday night, the elegies for his storied career were already being written.
During the run-up to Rua’s fight against James Te Huna, we’d heard all about his knees (shot), his cardio (suspect) and the intimidating aura he’d cultivated during his youth (now a distant memory).
The former light heavyweight champion was considered a slight underdog to the relatively unproven Te Huna. Dana White said they’d “probably” have the retirement talk if he didn’t perform well, via Fox Sports Live.
As it turned out, the only post-fight conversation Rua needed to have with the UFC president concerned the bonus check for knockout of the night. As in, it’s Mauricio—with two I's.
His retirement speech was not needed at UFC Fight Night 33, as he struck down Te Huna with a pinpoint counter left hook just one minute and three seconds into the first round.
Newsflash: Rua’s not quite done.
Had Te Huna’s brain been capable of coherent thought, he could’ve testified to that fact at the moment his body dropped to the canvas and his head snapped back like he’d been in a car crash.
“I knew he would come out aggressive and trying to strike, but I also expected him to come clinching and trying to wrestle me,” Rua said through an interpreter while still in the cage. “I was timing his engagements. When he was moving forward I was timing his entrances so I could connect.”
This is where the hyperbole typically kicks in—the talk about Rua being “back,” the wistful columns about how he’s recaptured his old magic and the aw-shucks apologies about how we can’t believe we ever doubted him.
This time, let’s skip that part, since it’s not true and it’s actually pretty cynical.
The truth, as always, will be found somewhere in the middle.
Perhaps Rua is not as close to being done as we thought, but the old Shogun is not “back.” Rua’s time as one of the most feared 205-pound fighters on the planet is long past, and it's not about to return.
His win over Te Huna was a good one, but in claiming it he stopped a fighter who himself came in off a loss and who had never beaten a top-10 opponent. Te Huna is a big, dangerous light heavyweight, but few were forecasting him as significant contender prior to this bout. Now maybe few ever will.
Rua’s victory simply means he’ll live to compete another day and perhaps get the chance to script his own denouement.
Where he goes next was a topic of conversation even before he dispatched Te Huna. It has been widely speculated—urged, perhaps—that he’ll think about cutting to middleweight, just like former light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida did earlier this year.
It’s probably the right move, if his body will allow it, though his questionable physical health will no doubt continue to dictate when, how and where he fights.
This weekend, we found out he still has the single-punch KO power that made him one of the most feared fighters in the world a half decade ago. That’s great, but let’s not make the mistake of inflating this win into something that it’s not.
The issues we saw in him before this bout—his busted knees, the mileage of 11 years and 30 fights, a 3-4 record since 2011—haven’t suddenly gone away. Can he still be a serviceable UFC fighter? Sure, but let’s not prop him up just so we can tear him down again later, when the facts come back around to meet our narrative.
Frankly, Rua deserves better than that.