TORONTO - Of all the former PRIDE stars to enter the UFC, none has shown more contrasting performances than Mauricio (Shogun) Rua.
The 2005 grand-prix champion was an absolute killer in Japan, but a series of injuries and surgeries left him looking like a shadow of the man who knocked out Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in one night.
After Rua lost to Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut four years ago, then barely got by Mark Coleman months later, many wrote him off completely.
But then it happened. The old Shogun re-emerged and knocked out Chuck Liddell at UFC 97 in early 2009.
Roughly a year later, he did the same to Lyoto Machida to capture to the UFC light-heavyweight championship and reclaim his spot as the top 205-pound fighter in the world.
But more time under the knife followed and the Rua who returned to face Jon Jones in March didn’t stand much of a chance.
The question now is: Which Rua will show up for the rematch against Griffin at UFC 134 Aug. 27 in Rio de Janeiro?
Rua said the loss to Jones was a tough pill to swallow, but he’s ready and completely focused on the former light-heavyweight champion and Ultimate Fighter winner.
“It was certainly a very bitter defeat; I got very sad,” Rua said on a recent conference call through translator Eduardo Alonso. “But I really trained a lot to overcome the defeat and to overcome those feelings. So, hopefully, I will be able to overcome all of that and show a good performance.
“I don’t think about (losing two in a row). I only think about giving my best performance and winning this fight. I don’t think about the worst-case scenario. I don’t think about the bad that can come out of this fight. I only think of what I can achieve, what I can conquer. That’s where I put my effort.”
Griffin is the first to admit some of the Brazilian striker’s UFC appearances have been better than others, but maintains he still beat a game Rua. He’s also tired of people insinuating otherwise.
“I watched the fight again,” Griffin began. “He looked pretty good to me.
“It doesn’t matter. Every fighter will lose at some time.
“You see how good he fought against Chuck Liddell and you just try to be ready for that Shogun. Not necessarily the Shogun that I fought. It seemed like when he fought Chuck he was 100% on his game. Hopefully, that’s not the guy who will show up, but that’s the guy you want to be ready for.”
When Griffin stepped into the cage with Rua the first time, many thought he was a lamb off to the slaughter. But in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, he snapped on a rear-naked choke, forcing Rua to submit.
Griffin admitted he isn’t sure there’s anything from the first fight he can apply to the rematch.
“I don’t know; that’s a good question,” Griffin said. “Guys maybe at their core don’t change, but he looks a lot different. That was his first fight in the UFC. That was his first fight in a cage. That was his first fight without kicks on the ground. So it’s different.
“I think it’s still a reasonably good fight for me. You look around at 205 — find me the easy fight. There are no easy fights. The top 10 guys at 205 are all pretty good. So it doesn’t really matter.”
Rua said he knew he’d one day get a chance to avenge the loss.
“Obviously we always get sad with all the losses we suffer, but as athletes we have to be used to it,” Rua said. “We have to deal with it and we have to go through it.
“Forrest is a good fighter; he’s a top fighter. Being a top fighter, I knew that I could fight him again. He’s a fighter that has evolved a lot and gotten a lot better since our last fight. So did I — I also evolved a lot. I think it’s going to be a great fight for the fans because Forrest is a guy who always comes to fight. He loves fighting. He goes in there to give the fans a fight and I’m pretty much the same. I’m always there to finish a fight.”
Earns a TKO
At UFC 133 earlier this month, Rashad Evans earned a TKO victory over Tito Ortiz to secure a shot against the winner of the championship fight between Jon Jones and Quinton (Rampage) Jackson.
UFC president Dana White admitted Rua and Griffin could only be a couple fights away from earning a title opportunity.
“It’s a good fight,” White said. “Like I’ve said about the light-heavyweight division, we’ve got the logjam broken up and we got that division going again. This fight will happen down in Brazil and right after we’ve got the title fight between Rampage and Jones. Rashad has already fought and won. He looked spectacular and is next in line.
“It’s very important. These guys are top guys in the division with Machida — we’ll see what happens.”