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UFC Fight Night 164 card: Shogun Rua vs Paul Craig full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight finishers Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig will throw down this Saturday (Nov. 16, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 164 from inside Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I wrote it in Midnight Mania when this short-notice fight was first announced, and I’ll say it again here: I love this weird fight!

It’s easy to forget just how well “Shogun” has been doing in the last couple years. Rua hasn’t fought often enough to build real momentum, but the Brazilian legend has actually won four of his last five fights. Meanwhile, Craig is an oddball submission fighter, willing to put himself in terrible positions to chase the finish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t ... but it’s always fun.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Mauricio Rua

Record: 26-11
Key Wins: Corey Anderson (UFC 198), Tyson Pedro (UFC Fight Night 142), Gian Villante (UFC Fight Night 106), Lyoto Machida (UFC 113), Forrest Griffin (UFC 134)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 128), Anthony Smith (UFC Fight Night 134), Dan Henderson (UFC 139, UFC Fight Night 38), Ovince St. Preux (UFC Fight Night 56)
Keys to Victory: Rua is one of the most vicious knockout artists in the history of the sport. Even at 37 years of age and moving far slower than the “Shogun” of PRIDE fame, Rua is still very capable of producing massive collisions with his heavy punches and chopping kicks.

One of the great traits that Rua seems to have developed more in recent years is patience. Rua can no longer afford to charge at his opponents recklessly, as he just doesn’t have the chin for it. All of his recent wins, however, came when Rua patiently worked from the outside, slowly building a lead.

Against a dangerous and strange fighter like Craig, that’s the best approach. Trying to blast Craig out of the water immediately is a young man’s game, and frankly, it’s only worked half of the time anyway. Instead, “Shogun” should pick his shots and avoid the brawl — his experience and power advantage should add up to another knockout.

Paul Craig

Record: 12-4
Key Wins: Magomed Ankalaev (UFC Fight Night 127), Henrique da Silva (UFC on FOX 22), Vinicious Moreira (UFC Fight Night 159)
Key Losses: Khalil Rountree (UFC Fight Night 113), Tyson Pedro (UFC 209), Alonzo Menifield (UFC on ESPN 3)
Keys to Victory: This is difficult to say with certainty, but I do believe that Craig is getting better. One of his big issues in the past has been confidence, as Craig would be doing well on the feet or in the clinch then suddenly pull guard. Last time out, Craig was smart and composed against Moreira, finishing him with knees in the clinch after denying his fellow grappler the type of fight he wanted.

Aside from his jiu-jitsu, Craig’s best attributes are his toughness and willingness to fight to the final bell. However, if he uses those traits to simply get socked up in the pocket, they don’t really do a ton to help his chances.

Instead, I’d like to see Craig pursue the clinch early and often. Craig is a large Light Heavyweight, tall and strong. Rua may be known for some brutal clinch knockouts in the past, but Craig has proven himself dangerous there as well. If nothing else, it’s an exhausting range to fight in, which favors the younger fighter.

In the clinch, Craig can attack with both takedowns and knees. However, it’s very important that he stick with what is working. If Craig is landing hard knees but unable to score a takedown, stick with the knees!

Bottom Line: This should be a fun fight with a high likelihood of a finish.

At this point, it seems like Rua’s position as gatekeeper to the Top 15 is pretty set in stone. “Shogun” is still slick and powerful enough to deny some prospects, but as the Anthony Smith loss showed, a true top contender will overwhelm him. As such, a win here really maintains the status quo, while a loss — while surprising — would not drastically change Rua’s position.

As for Craig, this is his first opportunity to score a win against a ranked opponent, and victory would actually make it three wins in four attempts. Unless he pulls off another last-second triangle choke, a win here would likely serve as good evidence that Craig is improving to more than a .500 fighter.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 164 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+“Prelims” that are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the main card portion that will also stream on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Fight Night 164: “Jacare vs. Blachowicz” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

At UFC Fight Night 164, Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig will go to war in the co-main event. Which man will have his hand raised?

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