The Early Years
Eleven years ago, a 20-year-old Brazilian swarmed through the Meca promotion, winning four straight fights by stoppage before being granted the chance to fight seasoned veteran and fan favorite Akihiro Gono in Shooto.
The man in question is Murilo “Ninja” Rua, and while he was forced to accept a draw upon fighting Gono, he’d unknowingly managed an important feat: he’d gained the attention of Dream Stage Entertainment, the Japanese promotion responsible for the increasingly popular Pride Fighting Championships banner.
Four months and one further victory for the Meca promotion later, and Rua signed the dotted line, locking him into a multi-fight contract with Pride Fighting Championships. At just 21 years old, Murilo was one of the youngster competitors signed to Pride’s expanding roster.
Pride Before the Fall
“Ninja” enjoyed his physical prime from 2001 to 2004. His earlier Pride appearances were violent, bloody affairs that often included a cringe-worthy amount of soccer kicks and stomps, and usually ended with “Ninja” declared the victor.
While Rua wasn’t busy toppling the world, he was dishing out punishment to respected fighters like Mario Sperry and Alex Andrade.
Losses to Ricardo Arona and Kevin Randleman kept “Ninja” from true title contention, but a closely contested affair with Dan Henderson (that resulted in a split decision victory for Henderson, though many analysts felt the nod should have gone to Rua) remained a high point for Rua, and would serve as a sound reminder that Murilo was fit to tangle with the sports elite.
In mid-2004 Rua ran into a career changing opponent by the name of Sergei Kharitonov during the Pride: Total Elimination 2004 tournament. Kharitonov wasn’t just a heavyweight, he was a fairly large heavyweight at 6’4", 245 pounds, and unfortunately for Rua, Sergei knew exactly how to turn that massive size advantage (remember that Murilo Rua is a natural middleweight) into precision power.
Though Rua attempted to mount some meaningful offense, Kharitonov carried too many advantages, and an array of brutal strikes left the Brazilian an unconscious mess in just over four minutes. It was, in the opinion of many, the turning point of Rua’s career.
Following the knockout loss to Kharitonov, Rua spent nearly a year away from the ring. He returned in February of 2005, and without hesitation accepted a fight with the larger, surging slugger Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. All odds pointed to another beating for Rua, but surprisingly “Ninja” fought a competitive fight that most purists still feel he won, though Pride judges awarded Jackson the victory.
The defeat seemed to take some of the remaining wind from Rua’s sails, and the once promising Brazilian went on to drop two of his last three Pride fights (a decision loss to Paulo Filho and a knockout loss to Denis Kang). By 2007 UFC parent company Zuffa had purchased Pride Fighting Championships, and before fans, or Rua himself for that matter knew it, Pride was a dead organization; promotional plays defunct, no events on the horizon.
Post Pride Days
After the demise of Pride, Rua would go on to fight for some of the best promotions in the business; only the illustrious UFC would remain unexplored. Rua enjoyed success in Strikeforce, where he battered Joey Villasenor, England’s Cage Rage, where he submitted dangerous striker Xavier Foupa-Pokam, and EliteXC, where he punished the disrespectful Tony Bonello.
Again, inconsistencies in Murilo’s performances kept him at bay, far from title contention. During the latter portions of his career he engaged in nearly inhumane wars with tough veterans like Benji Radach and Robbie Lawlor. These were not victorious affairs, and the punishment absorbed did “Ninja” no favors. By 2009 he looked like a war-torn veteran who’d lost his competitive edge.
Late Rally, and the Wall That Awaited
Just when MMA pundits had written Rua off, he quietly began to rediscover success, and importantly discipline. From September of 2009 to July of 2010, Rua reeled off four consecutive wins, all by way of stoppage. It seemed that “Ninja” had dug deep and uncovered a career second wind, until he ran into Roy Boughton, who once again lured Rua into losing exchanges, and controlled the Brazilian with relative ease en route to an obvious unanimous decision.
Despite the head jarring trouncing he suffered at the hands of Boughton, “Ninja” found his way into a BAMMA (British Association of Mixed Martial Arts) title fight at the promotions sixth scheduled event. Rua’s opponent was to be BAMMA’s reigning middleweight title holder Tom “Kong” Watson; a man with a large arsenal of strikes and an iron chin.
Just two days ago, on May 21 these two warriors met in the cage, where one hungry lion tamed a tired veteran of the sport. For more than two rounds Tom Watson picked Murilo Rua apart. Devastating low kicks left the legs and knees of “Ninja” swollen and wobbly; punches landed at will. Rua remained game, for as long as his body would allow.
Early in the third frame Rua’s lower extremities were too beatento hold him, and his defense completely fell apart. A huge high kick had Rua out on his feet, a few fast follow up punches and “Ninja” lay crumbled the fence, completely unconscious.
It was not the fitting way a warrior should exit his career, but following the match, Rua did just that when he announced his retirement.
Rua Retires, Official Statement
Murilo “Ninja” Rua should be remembered as a warrior. His career was an amalgamation of skill, courage, determination and heart. Never once did “Ninja” fail to entertain his fans, and throughout his 11-year career, he’s always been extremely kind to his followers. He was a monster when the bell sounded, but a gentleman in public.
Below is Rua’s official statement.
“Congrats to my opponent Tom Watson for the win @bammauk tonight, he was better and deserved it...I would like to announce officially my retirement from PRO MMA fights tonight. It was an amazing run, and its a very tough moment but there comes a time for all in life, and it's time to move on. I am proud of all I did in MMA and all experiences I had.
I will continue to work with MMA,doing seminars, eaching classes, training fighters,and doing my share to help our sport that I love so much. Its time now to help others and enjoy my family, my wife, my kids and move one.
I want to thank so much all the fans for all the support, always helping me out and giving me all incentive. Brazil, Japan, USA, England, Canada, Australia. All places I fought, thanks so much!!
I want to also thank to all the trainers that helped me from day 1 as a white belt until now. All training partners that pushed me so much. All sponsors that believed and still believe in myself. All my friends in the press. Many thanks to @BadBoyMMA and BVA Bank and mostly, I want to thank my true friends,my family, my mom and dad, my wife that I love so much, my kids who are my joy and my brothers.
I want to thank my manager for being my friend, and I want to sincerely thank my brother @ShogunRua for all support and making me so proud. Life goes on, memories will stay forever, and MMA will still be my life forever. THank you so much you all! Murilo "Ninja" Rua.”