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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 134’s Mauricio Rua

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champ, Mauricio Rua, will look to continue his career resurgence against fellow knockout artist, Anthony Smith, this Sunday night (July 22, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 134 inside Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany.

Depending on the fight, “Shogun” has always teetered between violent technician and madman slugger. Alongside Wanderlei Silva, he’s the most famous representative of the Chute Boxe academy and their legendarily offensive approach to combat. Of course, such a high-risk style does tend to wear on the body quickly, and Rua definitely hit a point where his brawling was no longer sustainable.

Luckily, the Brazilian realized it too. His last three fights have been among Rua’s most consistently composed performances in years, but make no mistake, “Shogun” still brings the violence.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

Striking

Rua is a very pure representative of Muay Thai, making great use of punches, kicks, and knees while rarely throwing any strikes soft. Of his 25 professional victories, 20 come via knockout, which is simply an insane statistic.

I wrote something similar nearly four years ago ahead of Rua’s match with Ovince Saint Preux — which definitely marks a turning point where Rua really committed to making positive changes — but you can tell a lot about Rua’s potential performances based on whether or not he is kicking. Kicks are an absolutely fundamental part of Rua’s offense, but repeated knee injuries over the years have made it iffy on whether or not Rua will actually use this part of his offense.

Rua has kicked consistently in his last three fights, and that’s a major reason he won those bouts.

“Shogun” is not much of a jabber. He’ll shoot out his lead hand occasionally, but Rua generally uses the low kick to find his range. When Rua is unable to kick, he doesn’t really adjust by jabbing extra, meaning his lunging power punches are less likely to land without any range-finder.

Rua’s somewhat recent match with Corey Anderson was a great example of how effective he can be when his low kicks are flowing. Anderson is a smart fighter, and his approach to the Chute Boxe legend was to keep his feet moving and work behind the jab. Not a bad plan in the least, but Rua did a really excellent job of stepping back slightly when Anderson jabbed, allowing the strike to come up short while “Shogun” threw a quick kick to the inside or outside of the leg.

Rua also did a nice job of backing Anderson up with punches before landing the low kick (GIF), and a man who can kick low both leading and countering is a dangerous striker. Of course, the best examples of Rua backing an opponent up before chopping the leg are his bouts with Lyoto Machida. Repeatedly forcing the Karateka to back off from his power shots, Rua would then slam his shin into whatever leg Machida left behind (GIF). Though Machida landed plenty of strikes by countering Rua as he moved forward, he also absorbed enough kicks to seriously impair his ability to move.

Against Southpaws like Machida and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Rua will look for a body kick on the open side more often as well. There’s little setup required here, as Rua can often just feint with his lead hand before slamming into the mid-section or head (GIF).

In addition to his Muay Thai roots, Rua has worked with famed boxing coach Freddie Roach over the years, and there has definitely been a noticeable improvement to his hands as a result. In particular, Rua’s counter punching has grown quite a bit and has actually been responsible for his most recent knockout wins.

That’s not to say there’s anything too complicated about Rua’s counter approach. As Rua’s opponent attacks, Rua simply does a better job of bending his knees and slipping to the side, which both loads up his power shot and gives him a better chance of dodging his foe’s blow (GIF). Furthermore, Rua is using the left hook as a counter shot more frequently, often attempting to slip inside his foe’s jab before leaping into the hook. He was already quite good at the cross counter, so another tool to counter the jab is very dangerous.

Lastly, Rua historically has been very good at countering low kicks. On the whole, Corey Anderson did well to maintain his range and kick with Rua. However, it only took one outside low kick from too close for Rua to drive forward. catch the kick, and smash into him with an overhand that likely won Rua the close decision (GIF).

In terms of offensive boxing, Rua’s feints are hugely important. Again, he mostly sticks to low kicks as a range finder, so opponent’s generally know he isn’t going to jab from range. Therefore, his power punches better be disguised by feints and variety, otherwise he’s vulnerable to counter shots.

Speaking on variety, Rua does a nice job of differentiating on his lead punch. The lead right hand is definitely a threat from Rua, often followed by a left hook or low kick. Alternatively, Rua can fake a lead right and load up left hook — much like Chad Mendes did last weekend — which is how the Brazilian stopped Chuck Liddell (GIF).

In addition, Rua switches up the angle of his right hand, coming in behind both the straight and overhand often. Once the threat of the overhand is established, Rua does a nice job of instead attacking with his right uppercut. That’s a risky lead punch to be sure, but Rua has rocked quite a few opponents who are looking to duck low in fear of his overhand.

Finally, Rua’s lunging power shots can often lead him to the double-collar tie. From that position, any PRIDE FC fan can tell you a vicious reign of knees is en route (GIF).

Rua’s defense definitely varies fight-to-fight as mentioned. Lately, it’s been reasonably tight, as Rua has committed to setting up his riskier punches and has been slipping before his counters. At the same time, Rua’s attitude will likely always be willing to take a shot to land one if need be.

Wrestling

In the past, Rua has only relied on his wrestling when seriously tired or facing a very dangerous striker. Against Nogueira, however, Rua turned to his wrestling earlier than complete desperation when things were not going his way, and the result was a rally back to victory.

As an experienced striker, Rua tends to be able to time shots when he wants to. It’s rarely pretty — Rua often goes for a body lock/double leg hybrid — but ducking under and landing on the hips is by far the most important part of actually landing a shot (GIF). In addition, Rua tends to find good success when wrestling along the fence.

Opposite “Lil Nog,” Rua did well to score with the high-crotch, which is a great shot to use against opposite stance opponents. As Nogueira stepped forward to punch, his lead leg was very close to Rua’s, meaning “Shogun” could easily drop down and run the pipe immediately.

Much like the rest of his game, Rua’s takedown defense is a case-by-case basis that’s based on knee injuries and conditioning. If gassed and on unstable legs, Rua is not a hard man to ground. Going back to his Anderson fight once more, however, Rua defended most of his foe’s takedowns quite well. On the whole, Rua tends to do better at defending shots along the fence, where he can use a whizzer and wrist control to stall until an opportunity to hunt for the double-collar tie emerges. In the open, Rua is a bit more vulnerable to being timed hunting for his foe’s chin and leaving his hips open to a counter double leg.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Following his 2005 Grand Prix win, Rua was awarded his black belt by Antonio Schembri. Rua’s statistics on submissions landed vs. times submitted may not be great, but Rua has nevertheless showed plenty of craft on the mat.

The highlight of Rua’s grappling game are his leg locks. Many times throughout his career recent and old, Rua has used his leg lock game to attack or get out of bad position, so it’s a worthy technique for this week’s video analysis.

A final leglock technique that Rua has attempted quite a few times is the drop-down heel hook from the back clinch. While controlling his opponent’s back, Rua will step in between his opponent’s leg with one foot and then sit down. While sitting, he’ll throw both of his legs around one of his opponent’s, effectively ending up in the heel hook position. It hasn’t worked yet and usually ends with Rua on the bottom, but he repeatedly tries it.

The other submission Rua often attacks with is the omaplata. His set up isn’t complex, he just frames the face while grabbing his own foot if his opponent puts his hand on the mat (GIF). While he has yet to finish one, he did sweep both Coleman and Ricardo Arona with omoplatas. The latter is very impressive, as Arona is an ADCC champion and an expert at controlling foes from the top.

The final technique that Rua uses from his half guard is a stand up. After failing to sweep or submit his opponent, Rua will secure an underhook and sit up into either half guard or butterfly. From there, he can usually stand up by digging into the underhook and getting his feet underneath him.

Rua is a man who does not let fear affect him in the cage, and that can be risky on the mat. Twice in his career, Rua rushed a stand up from the bottom, using an underhook to stand but leaving his neck exposed in the process. His guillotine losses to Renato Sobral and Chael Sonnen may have taken place a decade apart, but Rua’s mistake was the same in trying to rush his way up against a dangerous grappler.

Conclusion

Rua’s current three-fight win streak is awesome. The Brazilian recognized that deep into his career, he needed to change his approach, which is a nearly impossible thing to do. More than that, Rua did it without sacrificing what makes him a great fighter and legend. Unlikely as it may seem, Rua likely sets himself up for a title shot with a victory on Sunday, and even if said opportunity goes terribly for him, “Shogun” deserves a great deal of credit for his career renaissance.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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