Like a lamb being led to slaughter—that was the consensus among most mixed martial arts fans and pundits the night of September 22, 2007. That night in Anaheim, CA was to be the coming out party of one Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
Rua was signed by the UFC after the purchase of Pride and was matched up against the winner of Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter and fan favorite Forrest Griffin in the co-main even of UFC 76. Rua was the dominant Brazilian who possessed lightning quick and thunderous Muay Thai kicks that he would use to chop Griffin down to size and the rest of the UFC's light heavyweight division as well.
Unfortunately for Rua, somebody forgot to tell Griffin that he was supposed to lose and make Rua look like the monster who had captured the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. On his way towards winning the Grand Prix, Rua defeated future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Ricardo Arona and Alistair Overeem.
From the opening bell Griffin showed a tremendous heart and resolve to go along with a well put together game plan established by none other than the master himself, Randy Couture. Griffin used his size advantage to wear "Shogun" down and by the second round he had Rua gasping for air and unable to keep his hands up to defend himself.
Many fans have used the excuse that Shogun was suffering from a knee injury that would eventually require many surgeries and still causes him problems to this day. Others blame the fact that Rua was fighting in the Octagon for the first time instead of a ring. The third excuse people will give is that Shogun was not accustomed to the Unified Rules of MMA which took away his vaunted soccer kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent.
Not many people mention the fact that soon after this fight Griffin would have major shoulder surgery to repair a nagging injury that still plagues Griffin to this day. Maybe it's just hard for the Pride fanboys to believe that a reality show winner was just the better fighter that night. Whatever the case may be, Griffin used that win to land a spot opposite then-UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rampage Jackson as a coach on Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter and eventually capture the title at UFC 86 in July of 2008.
Since that time, Griffin lost the title to Rashad Evans at UFC 92, was toyed with and embarrassed by UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva at UFC 101 and has seen more time nursing injuries than fighting. In fact, since defeating Tito Ortiz in a rematch at UFC 106 in November 2009, Griffin has fought only once, which was a decision victory over Rich Franklin this past February at UFC 126.
Rua would not see action again until 16 months later at UFC 93 in a very uninspired performance against then 44-year-old Mark Coleman. Up next he would defeat Chuck Liddell via first round TKO at UFC 97 which earned him a shot at then-newly crowned UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104. For five rounds Rua implemented the perfect game plan for the previously untouchable Machida; he literally kicked the living hell out Machida, but somehow lost a unanimous decision.
He would earn an immediate rematch against Machida at UFC 113 and made the most of it by becoming the first man to defeat Machida. Rua left no room for error as he knocked "The Dragon" out in the very first round. Once again Rua required knee surgery and wouldn't defend the title until UFC 128 in March of this year. The opponent would be former champion Rashad Evans.
As the fight approached Evans was forced out to a knee injury of his own and Jon Jones took his spot. Once again Rua was not himself as he was completely dominated until Jones finally put the finishing touches on him midway through the third round. Rua looked slow and methodical compared to Jones, which could be due to the numerous knee surgeries and the wars he has been in over the years.
Now as we approach the UFC's first trip to Brazil since 1998, Rua and Griffin will meet once again. The winner could see himself close in on a title shot, but this fight is about much more than a title shot. For Rua it's about redemption; an opportunity to prove his first loss to Griffin was a fluke and for Griffin, it gives him a chance to shut the naysayers up and prove that their first bout was not an aberration.
Rua has enlisted the help of his former Chute Boxe coach Rafael Cordeiro and will train at Kings MMA. Griffin will once again work under the tutelage of UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture at Xtreme Couture. Who wins or loses is of course the primary concern here, but what is also important is seeing these two former champions compete as healthy as possible.
Expect Griffin to utilize a similar game plan and use his size and strength to wear Rua down while "Shogun" will need to try and hurt Griffin early and often to keep Griffin on his heels. Rua has shown signs of the greatness he displayed in Pride and Griffin has been the ultimate overachiever; if this fight is anything like the first, fans will walk away happy and entertained.
At this point in his career the knee injuries and surgeries may prove to be too hard for Rua to overcome. Even though Griffin is three years older I believe his body isn't as battered as Shogun's happens to be. When you combine that with his size, intelligence and heart, the nod has to go to Griffin once again, except this time it won't be so surprising.