There is no question that a healthy “Shogun” is as dangerous as they come.
On Saturday night in Rio, Mauricio Rua returned to form with an impressive first round knockout victory over former champion Forrest Griffin. The dominant performance helped ease the sting of his disastrous showing against Jon Jones.
Coming into the fight, questions lingered about which version of “Shogun” would show up – the lethal striker who tore through Pride or the under-conditioned replica Rua who labored against Mark Coleman. In quickly putting away the former light heavyweight champion, the Brazilian gave the partisan crowd something to cheer about.
It took Rua less than two minutes to show the power and finishing instincts that made him a star in Japan, pouncing on a stunned Griffin and pounding him out viciously. “Shogun” built his name on an aggressive attacking style that culminated in brutal finishes, and returned to those roots Saturday night in Rio.
The performance also gave Rua a measure of revenge, a devastating evening of the series between the two men that takes some of the shine off Grffin’s upset win in their first encounter at UFC 76.
While the issue of his health may be silenced for the time being, questions about Rua’s consistency linger. Returning to the win column against Griffin will certainly serve to bolster his confidence, but when placed the microscope, does it hold up as a quality victory?
The talk surrounding Griffin leading up to the fight focused on whether his head and heart were present in Rio. “The Original Ultimate Fighter” seemed to lack the fire and determination that rushed him to the forefront of UFC stardom. Less than two minutes into the fight, it was over, leaving everyone to wonder whether this was more a brutal beating from Rua or a case of Griffin being focused on other things come fight night?
Personally, I believe the victory holds up.
Rua’s precision and power were on full display as he handled a hard-nosed fighter in a fashion only equaled by Anderson Silva in the past. Rua made it appear as if Griffin had no business being inside the Octagon with him, a far cry from what transpired the first time they met.
Rua is noted for coming out of the gates quickly, but used the opening moments of Saturday’s fight to settle in and find range. A younger version of Rua would’ve thrown caution to the wind, bull-rushed Griffin and gone from there. Perhaps at this stage of his career, Rua is changing his approach, even if the adjustments are slight?
With that being said, consistency has always eluded the former Chute Boxe standout. If there was ever a time he needs to be consistent it’s now. While this victory doesn’t move Rua to the top of the list of light heavyweight contenders, it does place him amongst a small pack of challengers currently jockeying for position in the talented depths of the 205 pound division.
Here’s a look at what could be next for Rua following Saturday’s win.
The only fighter sharing space with Rua in the upper echelon of the division who is healthy and without an opponent is Lyoto Machida. A trilogy bout with Machida has the potential to draw interest, even though a large percentage of fans believe “Shogun” holds a 2-0 advantage in their rivalry. A third meeting between Rua and Machida could be interesting, but the presence of unbeaten prospect Phil Davis offers another direction for the UFC to potentially take.
Davis is a powerful, dominant wrestler, more so than Jones, whom Rua struggled with back in March. His length and overall athleticism could be problematic for the Brazilian, though if Rua enters the cage in optimum condition and free from injuries, his aggressive, blitzkrieg approach offensively could put Davis on his heels.
The dark horse candidate for a spot opposite “Shogun” could be Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson. Currently a free agent and having expressed an interest in returning to the UFC, a pairing of the two former Pride standouts might make the most sense of all. While Henderson has expressed an interest in a title unification bout with Jon Jones, securing a victory over Rua might be the fastest way to make that dream a reality. Both have the potential to end fights quickly and with the nostalgic glean of the Pride era heavy on both men’s resume, the match-up would be guaranteed excitement. It’s a high profile opportunity for both parties and the kind of bout that could establish the winner as the clear-cut next #1 contender.
Regardless of what comes next for the former UFC and Pride champion, Rua proved at UFC 134 that he can still be a wrecking machine. Now we just have to wait to see if that machine has enough left to produce championship gold once again.