This Saturday (Aug. 17, 2013) from TD Bank Garden in Boston, Mass., Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight stars Mauricio Rua and Chael Sonnen will go to war in the main event of UFC Fight Night 26.
Both fighters are coming off losses, so a win will be critical to retain any relevancy in a tough 205-pound division (or Middleweight in the case of Sonnen). In the months leading up to the fight, Sonnen has been rather quiet about "Shogun," which is the exact opposite of what we've seen from him in the past. There's still enough bad blood remaining from the trash talk Sonnen has spewed in the past about Rua's good friend, former Pride FC champion Wanderlei Silva.
Beyond that, the fight may look like a classic match up of striker versus wrestler, but there's more levels to this bout than that. "Shogun" has trained wrestling extensively with Renato Sobral and sharpened his boxing up with the world-renowned Freddie Roach. It's going to be extremely tough to stop Sonnen from scoring a few takedowns, so Rua's seldom-seen Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree may come into play here.
We should be looking at a great match from Boston.
Let's take a detailed look at how these two decorated combatants, Mauricio Rua vs. Chael Sonnen, got to this point, as well as how they are going to win at TD Bank Garden on Saturday:
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
Record: 21-7 overall, 5-5 UFC
Key Wins: Quinton Jackson (Pride Total Elimination 2005), Alistair Overeem (Pride Final Conflict 2005, Pride 33), Lyoto Machida (UFC 113), Chuck Liddell (UFC 97), Forrest Griffin (UFC 134)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 128), Lyoto Machida (UFC 104), Forrest Griffin (UFC 76)
How he got here: "Shogun" made his debut in 2002, racking up a 4-0 start to his career in Meca World Vale Tudo and IFC before succumbing to a guillotine choke from "Babalu" Sobral in his fifth bout. Soon thereafter, he made the transition to large-scale mixed martial arts (MMA) when he hit the Pride scene.
As a 23-year-old wrecking ball, he won the 2005 Pride Middleweight GP by blowing away the likes of "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and finally Ricardo Arona in a run that is unlikely to ever be duplicated. This announced Rua as a major player in MMA, and he continued to enjoy success in Pride FC, only losing once to a doctor's stoppage (dislocated elbow) when he lost to Mark Coleman at Pride 31.
Pride was bought out by the UFC in early 2007, and Rua made his Octagon debut in September of that year versus The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1 winner Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. He appeared out of shape, losing to a third round choke from Griffin. From there, Rua went on a rollercoaster ride in his UFC career, avenging his previous loss in Pride to Mark Coleman before destroying Chuck Liddell with a vicious TKO at UFC 97. He was on the losing effort of a very controversial decision versus then-Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
Rua came back to get his revenge on Machida at UFC 113 in May of 2010 with a definitive knockout, netting the title belt in the process. Unfortunately, "Shogun" also tore up his knee in doing so and didn't return to the Octagon until March 2011. There, he faced off with surging Light Heavyweight contender Jon Jones, becaming the unfortunate beginning of Jones' historic title run when he was finished by strikes in the third round. He got back into the win column with an impressive knockout in a rematch with Griffin in July 2011 at UFC 134.
His next fight was to be a bout that many fans of the sport deem as the greatest fight ever put on in the Octagon. At UFC 139, Rua faced off against Dan Henderson in a slugfest that showed incredible heart and determination from both fighters. Despite being rocked on numerous occasions by Henderson's patented "H-bomb," he persevered to come back and mount Henderson in the final frame. "Shogun" lost a split decision but gained the adulation of many fans that night.
His next fight came against Brandon Vera at UFC on FOX 4 and it was another slugfest. Vera proved to be an incredibly game fighter, but this time it was "Shogun" who came out on top with a fourth round technical knockout. Rua's last bout took place at UFC on FOX 5 last December, where he met current UFC Light Heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustafsson in Seattle's KeyArena. Despite his best efforts, Rua couldn't quite get inside the lanky Swede's range and dropped a unanimous decision to the rising prospect.
How he gets it done: Rua is going to get it done against Sonnen by utilizing his brutal Muay Thai game. The key is going to be using punches rather than kicks because of Sonnen's impressive wrestling offense, which is something for which Rua has effectively prepared. Enlisting the help of sought-after boxing trainer Freddie Roach, Rua's striking now appears to have a good amount of technical expertise to go along with the insane power he always possessed.
Rua has also been training wrestling with former opponent Renato Sobral, himself a former Brazilian Senior Freestyle National Champion in 1998. But, even despite that, it's going to be incredibly tough to not end up on his back at some point during the fight. Because of that, Rua's Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will most likely come into play.
Although he rarely shows it, Shogun has some incredibly good submissions from bottom guard and his opponent Sonnen hasn't exactly shown the best submission defense throughout his career. Rua's skillset in this area could be a lesser-discussed X-Factor in this bout.
Overall, Rua needs to force Sonnen to play his game by keeping the fight standing so he can land his trademark strikes. When the fight hits the ground, Rua needs to remain active by looking for submissions and sweeps to reverse position.
Record: 27-13-1 overall, 5-7 UFC
Key Wins: Michael Bisping (UFC on FOX 2), Yushin Okami (UFC 104), Nate Marquardt (UFC 109)
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 117, UFC 148), Jon Jones (UFC 159), Demian Maia (UFC 95)
How he got here: Although many would have you believe that Sonnen got here solely by running his mouth, he is actually quite an accomplished fighter. He got his start in MMA all the way back in 1997 at Battle of Fort Vancouver, defeating Ben Hailey via unanimous decision. He was absent from the sport for the next five years after that, returning in 2002 against none other than the currently oft-discussed Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Sonnen racked up an undefeated record in his first six bouts before going 0-2-1 in his next three.
Sonnen migrated from promotion to promotion, most notably making appearances in the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) and Bodog Fight before permanently settling down in the UFC in early 2009. He lost his Octagon debut against Demian Maia at UFC 95 via triangle choke, continuing the trend of Sonnen's weakness to submissions.
"American Gangster" truly began making a name for himself when he dominated former UFC Middleweight title challenger at UFC 109 in early 2010, earning a title shot against longtime kingpin Anderson Silva in the process. He met up with Silva at UFC 117 in one the most talked-about fights in UFC history.
During the bout he took Silva down repeatedly, landing over 300 total strikes to gain a lopsided advantage heading into the fifth round. Sonnen had Silva in trouble with the title belt in reach, but "The Spider" pulled an unlikely triangle choke victory out of his bag of tricks.
Sonnen was subsequently suspended by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) following the finding that his testosterone levels were over 16 times that of normal man due to his use of Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). He was suspended for six months and has received clearance to use the therapy in subsequent bouts.
Rebounding nicely with victories over Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, Sonnen hyped up a rematch with Silva. He got just that as the headliner of UFC 148 in July of 2012, but the result was the same. After taking Silva down and controlling him throughout the entire first round, Sonnen threw an ill-advised spinning backfist that wildly missed. Silva saw the opening he needed and landed a devastating knee to the chest of Sonnen, finishing the bout with some follow-up strikes in the second round.
Soon thereafter, Sonnen became embroiled in the drama surrounding the only event cancellation in UFC history. When Dan Henderson was forced to withdraw from his Light Heavyweight title bout against Jon Jones at UFC 151, Sonnen was willing to step up and fight "Bones" when many, including "Shogun" Rua and Lyoto Machida, would not. A huge media circus erupted, and when the dust settled, Jones fought Vitor Belfort a month later at UFC 152.
Sonnen's willingness to accept the incredibly tough fight on short notice earned him a title shot at Jones at UFC 159, culminating their stint as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter Season 17. Despite gruesomely breaking his big toe in the fight, Jones easily took Sonnen to the ground, finishing him off with strikes towards the end of the first round.
How he gets it done:
It's no secret that Sonnen possesses an incredibly effective takedown and top game. Sonnen was a decorated amateur and college wrestler, having attained NCAA All-American status in 1998 while at the University of Oregon and placing second in the 2000 World University Greco-Roman Championships. He's exhibited a seamless transition in integrating his vast knowledge of wrestling into practical application within the MMA cage, and he'll continue to do so against "Shogun" this Saturday.
On the other side of the coin, Sonnen has also shown that he's vulnerable to both strikes and submissions, albeit often against the absolute cream of the UFC crop. All told, he's lost 8 bouts by submission throughout his career. There's little doubt that "Shogun" will be looking to implement his Brazilian jiu-Jitsu skills should the fight hit the mat on Saturday, so Sonnen will have to on the lookout for that. If he can effectively control Shogun enough to grind him out while avoiding power strikes and submissions, Sonnen ay be able to pull out a huge victory that will probably put him back into the mix, somewhere.
Bottom Line: The bottom line of this bout is that both aging fighters will desperately need a win to hold onto any semblance of relevancy. Sonnen made waves and fans when his creative trash talk turned him into an overnight superstar, but now that act is beginning to grow a bit thin with MMA fans. If he were to pull an impressive victory over Rua this weekend, namely a finish, people might begin to listen to his antics once more.
For now, though, he'll have to do his talking with his skills instead of his mouth, as "Shogun" appears trained and ready to take the fight to "American Gangster" that disrespected his good friend Wanderlei Silva.
It's going to come down to whose glaring skillset wins out in the end. If Rua can avoid the takedown and land some of his patented Muay Thai strikes, it could be lights out for Sonnen. Rua will most likely end up on the ground at some point, but all is not lost as he could sneak out a submission win. Sonnen will look to grind out Rua with relentless takedowns and smothering top control. The skill clash could definitely provide the fans in Boston with an exciting main event.
It's put up or shut up time at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Chael Sonnen. Who's your pick to win this exciting battle of Light Heavyweights?