When Mauricio "Shogun" Rua came to the Ultimate Fighting Championship from the fallen Pride Fighting Championship, many observers who'd cut their teeth on the Japanese juggernaut believed he would quickly assert himself in the light heavyweight division.
Count me amongst those who considered the now 28-year-old Brazilian to be the cream of the 205-pound crop.
Before the freak broken arm he suffered against Mark "The Hammer" Coleman in their pre-melee brawl at PRIDE 31: Unbreakable (I'm not making that up), Rua had been shredding through the competition.
He'd put an ugly massacre on Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, eventually securing a technical knockout by soccer kicks. Then he'd taken out Antonio Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira, besting Little Nog by unanimous decision. Next up were Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem and Ricardo "I Got Power Bombed by Rampage" Arona, who both fell to Shogun's fists.
Those were some of Pride's better gladiators and the young phenom was roughing them up without too much trouble.
The injury only slowed him down for a bit—he returned to post four more impressive wins over Cyrille "The Snake" Diabate (TKO from stomps), Kevin "The Monster" Randleman (submission via gruesome kneebar), Kazuhiro "Kaz" Nakamura (UD), and another demolishing of the Demolition Man (KO via punches).
The Randleman clash was particularly noteworthy because of the bad blood coursing between Rua's Cute Boxe Academy and the Monster's Hammer House. Members from each team had rumbled in the ring after Coleman continued to pursue a clearly injured Rua in their bout at PRIDE 31 and each warrior was itching to settle the matter conclusively for his side.
The Sherdog 2005 Fighter of the Year did exactly that, showing no mercy en route to an impressive victory.
So Mauricio was coasting along quite nicely when he made his UFC debut against a pre-champion Forrest Griffin at UFC 76: Knockout.
Of course, Shogun stumbled that night and Griffin would use his submission of the more-hyped fighter to vault into the light heavyweight throne. Rua responded with a lackluster performance, albeit a victory, over the Hammer in a rematch of their ill-fated Pride bout.
That's where the story got interesting.
The ex-member of the legendary Chute Boxe Academy looked like his former, dominant self when he decimated Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell at UFC 97: Redemption. His resounding, first round KO of the future UFC Hall of Famer was enough to convince Dana White and the organization's powers-that-be the supremely dangerous athlete they thought they'd acquired via Pride had finally arrived.
Thus mixed martial art fans were treated to the original, controversial match between Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida and Shogun.
Given the events of Saturday night, let's just skip over the unpleasantness that was the UFC 104 "unanimous" decision.
As it turns out, those much-maligned judges were simply delaying the inevitable. They succeeded in doing so for exactly six months, 15 days, and 3:35 of the first round.
The opening few minutes of the championship feud seemed to be going decently for Lyoto. He was getting tagged here and there by his opponent, but he was doing a better job checking the debilitating leg kicks that had so hampered him in the first bout. Additionally, he's scored a couple takedowns and had managed to find homes for his counterstrikes.
Granted, aside from a brutal knee to Rua's body, Shogun was landing the more powerful strikes. He looked to have stunned the Dragon against the cage seconds before the lights went out on Machida.
Shogun would end the now ex-champ's undefeated streak and reign atop the division with a firm right to Machida's noggin. The heavy paw sent him to the canvas and he wouldn't rise.
The challenger pounced and, from the mounted position, delivered a flurry for the coup de grace.
On this night, Mauricio Rua had no appetite for the judges.
Shoot, he didn't even need the referee—the new Light Heavyweight Champion begun to climb off his unconscious and vanquished foe before Yves Lavigne officially ended the festivities.
With that, the moment many of us expected to happen soon after his arrival in 2007 and others felt should've arrived last October was finally here.
Mauricio Rua raised his hand in ecstatic triumph.
And he raised it as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
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