Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight finishers Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig will rematch this weekend (Sat., Nov. 21, 2020) at UFC 255 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Would it be so wrong to simply repost the entire article from their first bout, which saw the two fight to a draw almost exactly one year ago? Has the dynamic changed or the divisional consequences? Not at all, but the rematch nobody really asked for will still open Saturday’s pay-per-view (PPV) main card. Since the first fight, Rua picked up a split-decision opposite Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, while Craig and his infamous triangle choke tapped out Gadzhimurad Antigulov (does no one else find it hilarious that Paul Craig of all people is 2-0 vs. Dagestani athletes?). They’re both 2-1 (1) over their last four fights, so ultimately, the fight does make sense in a strange, roundabout way.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
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 an absolute legend of the sport, but his days as a spry young killer are long past. Fortunately, Rua still hits very hard, and the Brazilian seems to have found his balance between aggression and caution, which has been forced to change as his career progressed.
In the first bout, Rua found his best success on the mat. Craig’s speed advantage and length on the feet proved a problematic combo, but Rua is a long-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He knows how to avoid the triangle, sit in half guard, and land heavy shots. Plus, Craig may be comfortable on his back, but it’s still tiring to cling from the bottom, trying not to get blasted.
Rua has the clinch wrestling ability to safely put Craig down to the mat, particularly since the Scottish fighter doesn’t really try to defend takedowns. If he goes to that strategy earlier in the fight — rather than after taking big shots — he’s likely to wear down Craig and earn the decision nod this time around.
Record: 13-4 (1)
Key Wins: Magomed Ankalaev (UFC Fight Night 127), Gadzhimurad Antigulov (UFC Fight Island 3), 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: Craig’s current unbeaten streak is the best of his UFC career, and it’s not an accident. Slowly but surely, Craig has been gaining confidence in his non-BJJ skills, allowing him to resist the urge to pull guard and get smashed in the hopes of landing a triangle choke.
That confidence will be so important in this fight. If Craig takes a clean punch and starts shooting for desperation takedowns — or worse, pulling guard outright — he’s pretty much giving up his best chance at winning. Craig has to believe that he can win this fight on the feet, because he very likely can and almost did the first time!
It is very difficult to deal with a taller, longer opponent who also has a speed advantage. In the year since their last bout, Rua has taken a bit more damage and grown even further from his prime. Meanwhile, Craig should be entering his best years, so any edges from the first fight have likely only grown more significant.
If Craig sticks Rua with straight punches and looks for knees in the clinch, he may just pick up his first UFC finish via strikes.
It doesn’t really matter, so hopefully the bout is at least fun.
“Shogun” is close to retirement. He’s not chasing the title anymore. If he comes up short here, perhaps this will be his final contest, or at least set up such a fight. A victory, however, likely helps guarantee Rua makes the walk at least a couple more times.
As for Craig, he’s currently ranked at No. 15, taking a shot at the fighter one notch above him. This bout is an opportunity to climb the ladder one more rung as an unlikely contender. Perhaps more relevantly, each time Craig wins, it helps establish him as a divisional mainstay, a valuable member of the Light Heavyweight roster.
For a fighter who was at risk of release in 2019, that’s an admirable turnaround.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 255 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 255: “Figueiredo vs. Perez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.
At UFC 255, Mauricio Rua and Paul Craig will open the main card. Which man will earn victory in the rematch?