UFC 128 Preview: 5 Questions Ahead of Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua Versus Jon Jones.
When you put it into perspective, Jon Jones and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua are one in the same.
Both fighters have achieved similar success in their young careers. At 23 years old, much like Rua, Jones has bulldozed through the competition thus far, defeating everyone that is in front of him.
But the comparisons end there.
At UFC 128 both fighters will meet for the first time to determine the best fighter at 205 lbs. What makes this matchup so compelling is the styles both Rua and Jones present and the potential problems they could cause.
Rua is an explosive, aggressive fighter with dynamic and unorthodox striking, along with a vicious Muay Thai clinch. He has defeated a list of who's-who throughout his career, picking up 16 of his 19 wins by KO/TKO along the way. Rua won the Pride Grand Prix tournament in 2005, dominating the competition and establishing himself as an elite fighter, and transitioning to UFC where the Brazilian is officially crowned as the top light-heavyweight in the world.
Perhaps no other fighter has received as much exposure and achieved success in a shorter amount of time than Jon Jones. The light-heavyweight prospect has been given a lot of praise by fans and critics and is seen as the future of MMA.
Jones is a dynamic, unorthodox striker with an array of takedowns and trips, due to his Greco-Roman wrestling background. His large frame and 84'' reach causes problems for his opponents, while allowing him to dictate the fight and making them look foolish in the process.
Prior to the anticipated bout this weekend, we'll look at five things that could determine the outcome of the fight for either fighter.
Here are 5 Questions Ahead of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua versus Jon Jones.
5. How Healthy Are Rua's Knees?
Rua will enter his bout with Jones off of a ten-month absence, as the Brazilian required surgery on his left knee following his win over then-UFC Light-Heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida. Fans are quite familiar with Rua's reoccurring knee injuries as he has undergone three surgeries to repair them since 2008.
One could argue that due to his inability to remain healthy, he has not been the dominant force that fans imagined him to be since debuting in UFC in 2007, compiling a unimpressive record of 3-2. And when it looked like Rua had finally overcome adversity to capture the title at UFC 113, another knee injury kept him out of action, forcing him to miss the remainder of 2010.
It's evident that when Rua returns from an injury, his performances are uninspiring and disappointing. His first two bouts against Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman respectively, exploited his lack of cardio.
Since being sidelined, Rua has gone through rehabilitation and has stated that he is fully recovered and confident on successfully defending the light-heavyweight title.
Given his recent history, time will tell if Rua is able to reach his full potential as a fighter, something fans having been craving to see since his time in Pride FC, and considering he has only defeated one credible opponent in the last four years, his bout with Jones might just be the opportunity to show fans what he is truly capable of.
4. How Will Rua Handle Jones' 84'' Reach?
When you look at this fight on paper, it's evident that Jones holds an advantage over the champion in almost every aspect, including his 84'' reach advantage.
Part of what contributes to Jones success thus far is his overwhelming reach advantage over his opponents. He is able to use it effectively to control the distance, out strike his opponents and shoot in for a take down from a long distance.
Rua has squared off against guys who hold a height and reach advantage over him, i.e Alistair Overeem and Cyrille Diabate, but neither of those fighters possess the speed or athleticism that Jones has.
Rua's strategy will need to be crafted in a way where he avoids getting anywhere near Jones' range. And as efficient as he is in the clinch, it's hard to see Rua clinch with Jones long enough before he gets taken down to the canvas.
The logical thing for Rua to look for is to use his footwork in order to get in the pocket and find his range and either deliver strikes or kicks to the body and legs. It is at that point where Rua will begin to slowly find openings and break down his opponent.
3. How Will Jon Jones React to Being Hit?
To say Jon Jones has dominated all of his opponents would be a fair assessment. The rising 23-year old has soundly defeated every opponent with ease, looking virtually unbeatable, and continues to impress audiences with undeniable talent and unorthodox style.
But has all the success Jones has captured earned him the right to be called unbeatable at such a young age, with only three years of activity in mixed martial arts?
He has looked unbeatable, sure, but the competition he has faced is not nearly comparable to an opponent like Shogun Rua. Throughout his tenure in UFC, we have yet to see Jones pressured or have his chin tested.
Once he meets Rua at UFC 128, he is undoubtedly going to have to withstand either being pressured or being hit, and against an opponent who holds more skill than Jones' last four opponents.
Rua fights at a relentless pace and stalks his opponents with a purpose. At some point or another, Jones will be forced to fight with Rua which could result in him risking the chance of being knocked out.
2. Is Six Weeks Enough Time for Both Fighters to Be Prepared for Each Other?
When news broke that Rashad Evans injured himself while training for Rua, the opportunity was presented to Jon Jones. After barely receiving a scratch in his bout with Ryan Bader at UFC 126, Jones was officially slated to fight for the title about a month later.
While most training camps begin preparing for a bout 2-3 months prior, both fighters camps had to make adjustments quickly. Preparing for Jones would be a tough task for Rua due to his opponent's large frame, but in regards to skills, Rua has stated it hasn't been as difficult as it sounds.
For Jones, it's likely he started training for Rua the following week after UFC 126, and considering he has arguably the most talented camp in MMA, including head coach Greg Jackson, Jones won't be short of training partners to emulate Rua's style. But because of his lack of experience, it's doubtful that Jones will be fully prepared to study and learn Rua's style in a matter of six weeks.
While competing in Pride Grand Prix, Rua had no time to properly formulate a game plan, as he faced three opponents in one night, so the edge goes to Rua.
However,realistically, it is hard to imagine learning everything about your opponent in six weeks, but with both Rua and Jones confident in their abilities and determined to win the bout, it will be one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory.
1. Is Jon Jones Ready for a Title Shot at 23-Years Old?
A lot of fans have compared Jones' fast rise to the top of the sport to "Shogun" Rua's, as both men first began to gain attention at a young age due to their flashy, unorthodox styles.
Jones has said that Rua was one of the first fighters who inspired him while training for a career in MMA. One can argue that Rua defeated higher competition at the same age, but they both represent different styles.
At UFC 128, all the comparisons will be put to rest.
As skilled as Jones is, it might be a bit premature to hand off a title shot to a fighter with a limited amount of experience, let alone in a five-round fight. Now, some will say Rua achieved the exact same feat in 2005, as he became the youngest champion in Pride FC history, and the fact that the organization arguably had the best fighters at the time.
While that is true, MMA has evolved since then and the competition in the sport, let alone the light-heavyweight division, has only become better and a title shot nowadays presents more risk than reward.
But anything can happen in MMA. Will history repeat itself?