Fans of Rua have pointed out that it was his first time fighting in the UFC, that he’d been unable to train properly due to a knee injury that would eventually require two surgeries and force him to the shelf for almost 18 months. Shogun supporters around the world used any excuse they could to explain why Rua lost to the seemingly pedestrian Griffin.
When Rua finally returned to the octagon, he faced the aging Mark Coleman in a rematch of their 2006 PRIDE bout. To say Rua was unimpressive is putting it lightly. He gassed early and found himself in some precarious positions against Coleman. Nobody cared that it was Coleman’s first bout at light heavyweight.
I kept waiting for the monster version of Rua to appear, the guy who was considered to be the consensus top ranked light heavyweight in the world. Was he a victim of the Pride curse? Was he having problems adjusting to the new rules? Or was the problem that he never gave himself a real chance to recover from his knee injuries?
Whatever the case, it was time for the real “Shogun” to show his face. He would get another opportunity just three months later when he faced the rapidly fading Chuck Liddell.
“The Iceman” was coming off of a brutal knockout loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 88 seven months earlier and was looking to prove to everyone that he still had what it took to be a contender in the division he had ruled for so long. Rua never let Liddell get started, earning a knockout victory over the former champion in less than one round. That victory was enough to earn Rua a shot against new light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
Many fans and pundits alike didn’t believe a victory over two fighters who were clearly on the downside of their careers was enough to earn a crack at the UFC’s most coveted prize. Rua was very given very little chance of beating Machida, and for good reason — nobody had come remotely close to solving the vaunted “Machida puzzle.”
That was the night that Rua showed off the speed, strength, discipline and athleticism that had been talked about for so long. For five rounds, Rua confused Machida while landing vicious body and leg kicks that left red marks over the ribs of champ. It seemed certain that Rua would walk away with the belt, but the judges saw differently, awarding the bout to Machida in a close decision. It was close enough for Dana White to do something he rarely does — give Rua an immediate rematch.
That brings us to Saturday night at The Bell Center in Montreal, where the long-awaited rematch finally took place. It was evident that Rua had no intention of letting this fight go to the judge’s scorecards. Machida seemed uneasy and off balance even while taking Rua down on two occasions. Then with just under a minute and a half left in the first round Rua caught Machida with a punch to the top of his head and sent him crashing to the canvas. Rua followed Machida to the floor and finished him off with a few brutal punches to capture the title many felt he won all those months ago in Los Angeles.
Is this the Rua everyone was talking about? Is this the guy who destroyed all competition in PRIDE? It took longer than most expected for Rua to return to form, but his destruction of Machida placed him back on top of the light heavyweight heap and rewarded the fans who never lost faith in him.
At this point, the only question is this: who can solve the Shogun puzzle?