2007 was a year chock full of upsets in the MMA world. Everyone remembers Matt Serra’s “Rocky moment” over GSP (didn’t Rocky lose to Apollo Creed the first time?). Or how about when Gabriel Gonzaga went all Shang Tsung on Mirko Cro Cop, beat him with his own thunderous head kick, and pretty much ruined him as an elite level fighter from then on out (“Your clout is MINE!”).
For my money though, neither of those were the defining upset of 2007. There were people calling for Gonzaga to beat Cro Cop—not by head kick KO I grant you, but the end outcome itself (Gonzaga via TKO) wasn’t seen as a shocking outcome prior to the fight.
And sure, Matt Serra over GSP was statistically the biggest upset in UFC history. Yet I still recall a small army of trolls loudly proclaiming before the fight that Matt Serra was going to knock GSP’s block off and derail his hype train forever. It’s the same crowd that said Koscheck would out-wrestle him, Dan Hardy would out strike him, and Jake Shields would do something other then poke George’s eyeball like he was a dummy in a rape prevention class.
But Forrest Griffin not only defeating, not only finishing, but submitting the invincible “Shogun”? No one except the craziest of the crazy were calling for that to happen. If you had predicted prior to September 22, 2007 that the funny guy from The Ultimate Fighter was going to tap Rua, arguably the No. 1 P4P fighter in the sport, you’d have been laughed off the forum. The Sherdog forum, that is.
It wasn’t until he beat Lyoto Machida in May of 2010, that “Shogun” regained the clout he lost in tapping to Griffin. Forrest has ridden this win (and arguably the Jackson win) for the latter part of his career.
On August 27, at UFC 134, Forrest Griffin and “Shogun” Rua will meet again. There was a lot on the line the first time these two met. Yet I believe the rematch is even more important to the careers of both men.
I think it’s obvious, however, that a loss for Forrest Griffin would not be the end of the world. For better or worse, he’s already cemented his legacy in the UFC. He’s the first ever “Ultimate Fighter” winner. He’s the guy who broke MMA through to the mainstream with his record setting fight with Stephan Bonnar. He’s the guy who went from being KO’ed by Keith Jardine to being UFC Light-Heavyweight champion in three fights, with some of the most hard-earned underdog wins in UFC history. He’s the guy who wrote two very funny books. He’s as popular as any MMA fighter in North America.
But “Shogun”? Sadly, the man who once dominated the PRIDE middleweight ranks has fought to establish a name (and a legacy) since arriving in the UFC. The loss to Forrest Griffin shattered his invincible aura. A wheezing, uninspired win over Mark Coleman all but annihilated it. Rua was all but a ghost to MMA fans. There were honest to goodness calls for his retirement.
Then “Shogun” rehabilitated his image, KO’d Chuck Liddell, and split a pair of fights with Lyoto Machida that left him champion. And just like that, “Shogun” was back, baby! Once again, a recurring knee injury kept him on the sidelines at the zenith of his powers (the KO of Lyoto Machida) and when he returned, he walked right into the Jon Jones tornado.
So where does that leave his legacy? Certainly he’ll always be remembered for his days of dominance in Pride. Sadly, most North American MMA fans—or hell, just modern day MMA fans in general—just aren’t aware of his pre-2007 exploits in the land of Nippon. To most fans, Rua is a giant question mark in the LHW division. When he’s on, he’s among the best in the world. When he’s not, he winds up in an oxygen sucking contest with Mark Coleman.
Rua may go down as the Mario Lemieux of MMA; that is to say, a supremely talented and successful athlete who’s recurring injuries may have held him back from achieving his true greatness.
At UFC 134, in front of what promises to be a rabid pro-Brazil crowd in Rio, “Shogun” is fighting for his legacy in the sport of MMA. A win send him back to LHW title contendership. A loss will see some cynical fans write him off completely, and send him into divisional purgatory. He could be looking at undercard fights with Rich Franklin in Australia should he lose here—and let’s be honest, that’s not really a bad thing.
But for fans who remember the “Shogun” of old, it simply isn’t enough. This is a fight he needs to win if he wants to make one last shot at establishing his legacy as it deserves to be: namely, as an elite level LHW who dominated every organization he ever fought in.
The bad news for Rua is that the same problems that dogged him the first time still dog him. His suspect knee ligaments, and resulting suspect cardio, are still something of a question mark. Griffin is himself proficient in the leg kicks that are “Shogun’s” specialty. And he has the size, strength, and wrestling advantage to wear him out on the mat, just like last time. As much as thing have changed in the fortunes of either man, the match-up between the two remains markedly the same.
In short folks, Forrest Griffin has all the tools to beat ‘Shogun” Rua again. I shudder to think of what that would mean for Rua’s chapter in MMA history books.
And what am I, crazy? Of course Gabe's headkick over Mirko was the biggest upset in MMA history. I was just trolling you before.