Photos by Esther Lin via MMA Fighting
Two different generations of fighters will collide this Saturday night (Dec. 8, 2012) as former UFC champion Mauricio Rua battles rising Swedish star Alexander Gustafsson in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 5. What's the key to victory for both light heavyweights? Find out below!
Record: 20-6 overall, 4-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Shogun was a prodigy while competing in Japan for the Pride FC organization. He absolutely smashed everyone in his path, including "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alistair Overeem, among others, en route to winning the Pride 2005 middleweight grand prix. Seven of his eight victories were by way of knockout.
He finished his Pride FC run with at 12-1 before making his Octagon debut against Griffin. Things didn't go exactly as planned, however, as Rua slowed drastically in the second round and never recovered, losing via rear naked choke right before the final bell in a huge upset.
After getting back on track, Shogun would smash former champion Chuck Liddell, which would earn him a title shot against Lyoto Machida. He would lose a highly controversial decision after five rounds of action. However, afterward he was granted an immediate rematch, which he used to knockout "The Dragon" to become the UFC light heavyweight champion.
The champ would be forced to sit on the sidelines for 10 months while rehabbing a knee injury and was welcomed back to the cage by the rising phenom Jon Jones. Jones battered Rua for two and a half rounds, taking his title in dominating fashion.
Afterward, "Shogun" signed on to fight Griffin in Brazil for UFC 134, where he would knockout the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner and UFC champion in the first round. This would be the third of his five career losses that he's avenged. With the quick victory, he had a short turnaround to welcome Henderson back to the UFC and he put on what is widely considered the greatest fight of all time, suffering terrible damage and dishing it out equally to the veteran.
Rua returned after a lengthy layoff to defeat Brandon Vera in the main event of UFC on Fox 4 this past August, although the fight was much closer than many predicted. Now, he's got a young stud gunning for him in Gustafsson..
How he gets it done: If "Shogun" wants to be successful in this fight, he has to show no respect for Gustafsson's stand-up and just blitz him. He's got the chin and power to potentially overwhelm "The Mauler" as long as he can keep the Suede on his toes.
Getting this fight up close and personal is how Rua will win it. He's got to make it a bit ugly, close the distance and batter Gustafsson with elbows, knees and shorter punches like uppercuts and inside hooks. He can't afford to sit on the outside and get picked apart by the lanky fighter's reach.
Another potential opportunity is for Rua to try to surprise Gustafsson with takedown attempts. He was able to beat down Dan Henderson in the final two rounds of that epic UFC 139 battle by attaining full mount. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he could take the European star down if the fight starts to get out of hand. Rua has some very sneaky trips if he can grab ahold of Gus.
Record: 13-1 overall, 5-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Phil Davis (UFC 112)
How he got here: Alexander Gustafsson began boxing at just 10 years old, but he grasped the bull firmly by the horns when he jumped into mixed martial arts with both feet, making the transition in 2006 at just 18 years old. He transitioned his striking skills very quickly into MMA, winning six of his first eight fights by knockout or TKO on the European circuit.
He earned an invite to the UFC at the end of 2009 and boy did he pass his test with flying colors, knocking out the always scrappy Jared Hamman in just 41 seconds at UFC 105. He would be matched up with undefeated former national champion wrestler Phil Davis at UFC 112 and would get dominated physically, suffering a first round submission defeat via anaconda choke.
After accepting Davis' offer to come to his gym in America and train with him, Gustafsson has never looked better. He won his next two fights via his own ground game with rear naked chokes against James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate and then followed it up at UFC 133 with the most significant victory of his career against Matt Hamill, destroying "The Hammer" in the second round so badly that he retired afterwards.
He followed up that performance by taking on veteran Vladimir Matyushenko and trashed "The Janitor" with a first round TKO after dropping him with a jab. This earned him his first headlining appearance where he beat up Thiago Silva over the course of three rounds to continue his hot streak in the division.
Now, he's got a legend in front of him and he's hoping for a changing of the guard.
How he gets it done: If Gustafsson shows any of his ground game in this fight, it'll be his defensive wrestling which has been a primary focus ever since his loss to Phil Davis while training at Alliance MMA. He needs to use his technical striking to beat Rua's brawling and aggressive style here.
If "The Mauler" can remain at a distance, his kicks are going to be a huge advantage from the outside. He also needs to keep circling and use angles to take advantage of the fact that "Shogun" likes to move forward so much. The more strikes he can land to the legs and body, the slower Rua will become and the easier to hit he'll be as the fight wears on..
If he can lure Shogun into perhaps a false sense of security with jabs and leg kicks on the outside, that will be the time to pounce with all of his power. Gustafsson has some of the best finishing instincts of any fighter on the UFC roster and if he can connect with that heavy right hand of his, don't be surprised to see Shogun put in serious trouble..
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the damage that Shogun has taken in his last two bouts. After building more of a reputation as a killer who could crush his opponents without getting hit too badly, Rua has had years taken off his life in his wars against Dan Henderson and Brandon Vera. Those are not the type of performances he can afford to have against Gustafsson, who's young, hungry and extremely talented.
If Rua continues to get hit early and often in his fights, it's going to come back and bite him in the ass. This could be the fight.
Bottom Line:This is a tremendous match-up pitting a former champion against a potential future one. Both Gustafsson and Rua are at a very similar level of skill and talent at this point in their careers and there's some insane possibilities for this fight. It could be a ridiculous stand-up war or perhaps a more measured and cautious approach. It could be ferocious in the pocket or a clinch battle. Hell, it could even go to the ground. The unpredictability of this bout is what makes it interesting and you shouldn't miss a beat when it starts. With how hard both of these guys hit, it could end at any instant.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 5? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!
Which light heavyweight will get one step closer to a title shot on Saturday night in the UFC on Fox 5 co-main event?
Alexander Gustafsson (173 votes)
Mauricio Rua (136 votes)
309 total votes