There are many mysteries in life, but there are none regarding the mixed martial arts (MMA) match up between Mauricio Rua and Alexander Gustafsson that will co-headline UFC on FOX 5 later this evening (Dec. 8, 2012) from the KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is determined to see if Gustafsson can become a legitimate contender, and in facing a legend with Rua, it's the quickest route to a title shot you might ever see.
Basically, the UFC has taken a look at "Shogun" and over his last performances, it's obvious he is a fighter in decline. What better way to make the most of the situation than to build a new contender (one who is European, no less) by pouncing on the fading talent while he's still available for the taking.
Gustafsson has shown some improvement in past bouts, but to be honest, I'm not sold on the guy. His three-round, bounce-and-shoeshine decision over Thiago Silva was hardly reminiscient of Jon Jones' early UFC performances, and at 6'5," he still lacks the takedown defense to ward off power wrestlers.
Ironically, known for his legendary striking and numbing power, Rua may have to switch gears here, as he's an aging, one-round fighter now increasingly reliant on an amazing chin and pure mettle where brilliant skill and volume once reigned.
Check out a complete breakdown of the UFC on FOX 5 co-main event fight between Mauricio Rua vs Alexander Gustafsson below:
Gustafsson knows this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and if he's smart, he'll play to the judges by displaying a higher work rate and moving around a ton to deny Rua the chance for point-blank ranges. Gustafsson's kickboxing is technically sound but a lot of the time it seems he's punching at the target while flitting away, instead of punching through it, which is a problem Rua has never experienced.
A feared striker with an all-in approach, Rua may need to consider taking Gustaffson to the ground (his body-lock takedowns were a staple of his Pride days) and assuming top position and working from there to win rounds. In fact, in a ground fighter, Rua should win nine times out of 10, as his Brazilian jiu-jitsu was always overshadowed by highlight-reel knockouts.
Rua also is an aging legend at the tail end of his career, and he really needs to fight like a guy who is not willing to be pushed out the door. Much as B.J. Penn was content to laconically stand around while Frankie Edgar outhustled him twice to a decision, Rua's biggest danger is letting Gustafsson build up points and win rounds while waiting for the perfect shot to arrive.
It happens to a lot of aging fighters, and that's exactly the conventional wisdom behind this match, as far as the UFC is concerned.
For Rua to break script and take it to the mat would be a surprise to anyone used to his aggressive, stand up-heavy styles, but it would make the fight much easier for him, especially since his gas tank and reflexes are clearly marginal at this point.
Everything points to a Gustafsson win, and he's even a 2-1 favorite. But, Rua is an old dog with a lot of know-how, and his ability to bomb away might be enough to discourage Gustafsson from engaging too often. Honestly, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Rua outpointed in this bout, but I still can't see how Gustafsson is going to get in and out of the pocket more than a few times without getting nailed. When that happens, Shogun will pounce, taking the momentum and dialing in to hurt Gustafsson in increasingly bloody exchanges en route to a violent second-round knockout.
Prediction: Shogun via knockout in round two
Be sure to join MMAmania.com later this evening for LIVE blow-by-blow, round-by-round coverage of UFC on FOX 5: "Henderson vs. Diaz," beginning with the "Prelims" bouts on Facebook scheduled for around 3:45 p.m. ET. In addition, we will also provide LIVE, real-time results of the main card action as it happens throughout the evening this upcoming Saturday, starting promptly at 8 p.m. ET.
See you later!
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst