Former PRIDE legend Mauricio "Shogun" Rua seized the UFC light heavyweight title in stunning fashion Saturday night, bringing dramatic closure to months of debate and speculation.
Last October, Rua's title challenge gave the heretofore-unbeaten Lyoto Machida his most competitive fight to date in the Octagon, a five-round war that left "The Dragon" battered and exhausted. While an unscathed Rua smiled in anticipation of having his hand raised in victory, Bruce Buffer instead announced Machida as the winner by unanimous decision and was met with a raucous chorus of boos from an audience that clearly felt Shogun did more to win the fight. Many analysts and other fighters felt Rua's relentless pace, physical conditioning and barrage of devastating kicks did more to score him points, an opinion shared by UFC head Dana White. White immediately called for a rematch, and Rua returned to Brazil to quietly improve upon his near-perfect game plan.
Rua returned to face Machida for the second time this past weekend, and brought with him an unwavering determination to decide the outcome of the fight without the judges' assistance. Both fighters clearly did their homework; Machida began timing Rua's leg kicks to set up a counter immediately and also took Rua down moments into the fight, while Rua showed excellent scrambling in anticipation of a ground fight. The fight looked early to be every bit as active and competitive as their first.
It was Rua, however, who won the high-stakes strategic gamble that has been described by MMA writer Darren Wong as "rock, paper and scissors." Machida, who after October's title defense was left with broken ribs, welts and deep bruising, wagered that Rua would again rely on the kicks he had so much success with in their first fight. It seems that Rua on the other hand, anticipated this adjustment on the part of the Machida camp and instead used those expectations to set up his boxing. Rua gambled that Machida would be so focused on timing and countering his kicks that he'd leave himself vulnerable, and that is precisely what happened. As Machida delivered his trademark straight left, Rua slipped the punch and came over the top with a hard overhand right on the side of Machida's head that buckled the champ's knees. Rua wasted no time and pounced, finishing Machida with four or five clean strikes from the full mount position before Yves Lavigne could step in to yank him off his motionless opponent.
After a slow start in the UFC which included lackluster performances against Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman, Mauricio Rua has apparently been born again hard as the new light-heavyweight champion of the world. In a division that has played host to five different champs in three years, the new kid in town looks to break that trend with a thrilling and aggressive style that drives the action inside the cage and sells tickets. "Shogun" seized the title looking every bit the part of the best 205-lb fighter in the world.
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