When Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is saddled with a faded superstar who refuses to quit, but still has marquee value, there's one course of action left.
And it isn't pretty.
It's to put him in against rising stars, or as a substitute for scratched entries, whereby he'll either serve as a functional notch on someone else's belt or score an improbable win that allows the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion to extend his life cycle for a few more one-sided losses (think Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader).
And it's pretty much the life cycle of virtually every competitor in combat sports, especially those who once were among the best. And as far as Mauricio Rua is concerned, his submission loss Saturday night (Aug. 17, 2013) to Chael Sonnen at UFC Fight Night 26 spells it out clearly.
There's no reason to follow in the steps of Ortiz or Matt Hughes, similar ex-champions whose declines matched in lock-step with the grim transformation of going from champ to viable contender to basically fodder thrown in to suit the promotion's larger needs. Rich Franklin, whose ability to shuttle between two weight divisions and accordingly serve as a kind of fireman for the UFC's immediate needs, is probably another stoppage loss away from inclusion on this list.
UFC has a job to do, which is to fill spots on a card in a manner that sells its product. Every fighter has a decision to make about what kind of risk-reward he's willing to take on to participate in that process. For Shogun, it's obvious he should retire, because the road ahead only gets rougher; the formula for how to use him given his remaining diminished skills is obvious.
It's easy to crow about the reason(s) a fighter should retire, which is the journalistic equivalent of taking a tune-up fight, but at the risk of this, it does remain worth saying that Rua truly was something special. Before UFC acquired Pride FC, he -- along with stable mate Wanderlei Silva -- was one of the most dangerous fighters in the sports and a phenomenal talent.
His run in 2005 was the most impressive calendar-year tear in the history of the sport, at least until Jon Jones took 2011 by storm. Rua, a mere 23 years ols, tore through five opponents, including four brilliant performances to win that year's 205-pound tournament. This included a knockout of Quinton Jackson, then a decision over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a fantastic, two-way battle. He then capped it off by finishing Alistair Overeem and the durable Ricardo Arona on the same night.
It was the ascent of a special fighter, someone who brought a mix of fan-friendly aggression and potent skills.
Rua's subsequent knee surgeries and physical decline was obvious as soon as the UFC acquired him, and despite winning the title, he was never able to put back-to-back wins together over Top 10-ranked opponents (a close decision loss to Lyoto Machida was the closest he came). Since then, the down-trend has been obvious.
Physically, he looks shopworn, and his faded reflexes make him badly vulnerable.
It may be part of the inevitable life cycle to see him continue to struggle catching up with an Alexander Gustafsson, or blundering into a submission from a Sonnen, or getting into brain-rattling wars with Dan Henderson, having to go to the well to finish Brandon Vera.
None of it resembles the perfectly tuned fighting machine that justified the reputation. And as someone who remembers what he was and was capable of, I for one don't want to see a second more of it.