A potential shot at the UFC light heavyweight title is on the line this Saturday night (August 4, 2012) as former UFC 205 pound champion Mauricio Rua takes on Brandon Vera in the main event of UFC on Fox 4 in Los Angeles, California.
Mauricio Rua has not stepped foot inside the Octagon since his epic clash against Dan Henderson, perhaps the greatest fight in MMA history, last November, in which he lost a hard-fought decision. "Shogun" wants to be champion again and he's got an axe to grind against both Dan Henderson and Jon Jones, but he has to impressively win his fight this weekend first.
Brandon Vera likely didn't deserve this opportunity, but he was at the right place at the right time and he's taking full advantage. "The Truth" has won just one of his last four fights, but if he can rise to the occasion against a former champion, he could leave this bout smelling like a rose and could potential vie for that title, fulfilling one half of his bold prediction made six years ago.
Will Rua be able to walk through Vera on the national stage? Can "The Truth" be set free and live up to his once great potential against a former champion? What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Mauricio Rua
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.
After nearly nine months, Rua is finally recuperated and ready for another battle against Vera.
How he gets it done: If "Shogun" wants to be successful in this fight, he has to show no respect for Vera's stand-up and just blitz him. He's got the chin, the power and the technique to overwhelm "The Truth" as long as he still believes in himself.
That's a concern.
Rua is still an incredible athlete with tremendous talent. As long as he can harness those lethal tendencies, he's got a very good shot of walking through Vera with a big flurry of punches, or perhaps just one big one like against Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida or Forrest Griffin (the second time around).
If he takes his time, I expect to see lots of leg kicks as he finds his range and gains the confidence to get inside for the killshot.
Record: 12-5 (1 no contest) overall, 8-5 (1 no contest) in the UFC
How he got here: Brandon Vera was one of the most hyped prospects in UFC history. He entered the promotion on a tremendous wave of momentum, winning four straight bouts including knocking off former champion Frank Mir and former title challenger Justin Eilers in less than three minutes combined.
This of course, brought out that memorable clip where he stated he wanted to hold two titles in two weight divisions simultaneously, but he failed to live up to his own standards after consecutive losses to both Tim Sylvia and Fabrecio Werdum.
A drop to light heavyweight seemed to be the perfect solution but a loss to Keith Jardine in his second bout at 205 pounds sidetracked his progress. After a pair of wins, he was granted main event status against Randy Couture at UFC 105 but would find himself on the receiving end of a tough decision loss.
With his potential fading, Vera was fed to Jon Jones in a fight he lost badly via first round TKO due to elbows to the orbital socket. He was thrashed by Thiago Silva in a follow-up fight and released by the promotion but was brought back when the Brazilian tested positive for steroids. In his return fight, Vera squeaked by Eliot Marshall despite breaking his arm.
"The Truth" was in the right place at the right time to be offered main event status at this upcoming UFC on Fox 4 event.
How he gets it done: It won't be pretty, but Vera's best shot of winning this fight is to get up close and personal in the clinch or perhaps utilize the wrestling skills he's let sit by the wayside. I don't think he's got the chin or the speed to stand and bang with Rua.
Vera has had a tendency in the past to grind out fights in the clinch like he did against Randy Couture and Krzysztof Soszynski. I think he's got some wicked elbows and a potential length advantage to work Rua over with knees in the clinch if he can keep the fight up close and personal.
If that doesn't work, Vera has been putting a lot of time in shoring up his wrestling with teammate Phil Davis. If he can put Rua on his back, there's potential that he can win an ugly smothering fight on the canvas as well. He'll have to be able to close the distance without getting his clock cleaned, however.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be whether "Shogun" Rua is taking this fight seriously. Rua is a former world champion who has put on some of the best performances of all time in the light heavyweight division. In terms of 205-pound resume and skills, he's light years ahead of Vera. On paper, he should win this fight easily.
But if that's all gone to his head and he hasn't been training properly or thinks he can just walk through Vera without much effort, he could be in for a surprise.
Bottom Line: While the match-up is a bit perplexing, the fight has a high potential to be finished quickly. Both Rua and Vera like to stand and trade and both men have solid Muay Thai skills. If they actually decide to throw down in a stand-up brawl, this fight could get very fun, very quick. If Vera slows it down in the clinch or on the ground, we might be throwing rotten vegetables into the cage as well. It all depends on what way Vera wants to fight and if Rua is in a mood to really bring the pain.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 4? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!