At his peak, Mauricio Rua was one of the most imposing figures in MMA, and his stunning body of work in 2005 stands as one of the greatest one-year runs in the history of the sport (Jon Jones' 2011, the best of all time, was slightly better).
The Chute Box product has transitioned into top contender status after his disastrous Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut against Forrest Griffin, and he really redeemed himself in two impressive performances against Lyoto Machida, with the second ending on an emphatic, eye-popping knockout to take the belt.
Vera is perhaps the most puzzling fighter in the game, at least when comparing talent to results. Once a brilliant heavyweight prospect, his drop to 205-pounds has been marked by inconsistent performances. As a package, there are few athletes in the game who can compete with Vera's outstanding wrestling, ground game and classical Muay Thai stylings.
Yet, he doesn't seem able to put it all together. There are certain nights where he's in the cage, but he doesn't seem to be the guy you know he's capable of being. He'll need to be that guy tonight (Sat., Aug. 4, 2012) at UFC on Fox 4 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC on Fox 4 main event match-up pitting Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera.
Vera's getting a second chance here, after originally being cut after his one-sided decision drubbing at the hands of Thiago Silva (Vera was re-signed to the UFC after Silva tested positive for performance enhancing-drugs). To break down matches, I always try and put on my Joe Silva hat to ponder what the UFC matchmaker wants to happen. The promotion definitely needs another big-name foe to challenge Jon Jones, as the streaking champ is on his way to cleaning out the division's best if he gets by the ageless Dan Henderson in September. Rua's the perfect guy, as the "revenge" storyline can be milked for all it's worth, depicting Silva as an ex-champ bent on getting his championship back from the upstart who took it.
But Silva has had multiple knee surgeries and simply isn't the wrecking machine he was in Pride. It's amazing to be a world-class fighter at a mere 24 years old, but very few of those guys stay at the top level by the time they're 30, the number Shogun hit last September.
Vera has the tools to match stand-up with Rua if he's smart and keeps it on a technical level; Shogun's penchant for forcing exchanges and drilling opponents with numbing shots has spelled doom for numerous opponents. On the ground, it's likely to be a stalemate as both are too adept and slick to be outmaneuvered here.
Shogun's past his best years, but he's still a heck of a fighter, and what impressed me most in recent losses to Jon Jones and Dan Henderson was the seemingly limitless heart the guy has. He will take an enormous amount of punishment, suck it up, and keep battling. He was basically knocked silly in the opening moments of the Jones fight, where he ate a massive flying knee, but kept fighting until finished in the third, absorbing a wicked beating in the process.
Shogun's low kicks are a great weapon against Vera, who typically fights southpaw but will switch up to give a foe different looks. The clinch work slightly favors Shogun, but the real wild card is how much Vera thinks he can succeed standing. If he can match Shogun with strikes, that will go a long way toward opening up takedowns, though it's doubtful much will result from there. Rua's ground game is eminently good and Vera lacks the horsepower to keep him on the mat for long.
A guy with nothing to lose is dangerous (just ask Edson Barboza, who had a similar situation in May in facing the seemingly doomed Jamie Varner). Vera has to know he needs to pull out all the stops, and in a career that once seemed marked for greatness, he's got a huge opportunity. He has to go for broke and put it all together. Shogun, however, is too versatile and despite his mileage and years, there's never a question if he gave it his all. He always does, win or lose. Shogun will force early exchanges and batter Vera relentlessly, sucking him into a high-energy brawl en route to a brutal second-round stoppage via ground and pound.
Shogun via technical knockout in round two.
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC on FOX 4 results of all the "Shogun vs. Vera" network television action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the FUEL TV "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the main FOX broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.
See you later!
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or firstname.lastname@example.org.