In the wake of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s astonishing destruction of previously untouchable karateka Lyoto Machida during UFC 113, the big question on the lips of the entire MMA world now is; has the UFC finally found its true light heavyweight king?
Of course the UFC light heavyweight division has always been stacked with the most recognized and marketable fighters on the planet. The all-American poster boys that revolutionized the sport during the Zuffa inspired world-wide MMA renaissance were almost all 205-pounders. While boxing had the heavyweights, the UFC had the light heavies.
First it was Tito “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Ortiz. He was the brash and cocky kid who brutalised an under skilled division with his god given strength and vicious elbows inside the guard. Then it was Randy “The Natural” Couture, or simply “Captain America.” He was the ageless and affable American hero who made a habit of shocking the world with his grit and world class wrestling ability. And finally it was Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. He was the mohawked knock-out artist with impregnable takedown defense who beat down both Ortiz and Couture twice on his way to becoming MMA’s first true cross-over star. Yes, since its inception on May 4 2001, the UFC light heavyweight division had always boasted a true divisional king.
Then on May 26 2007 at UFC 71, barely three weeks after becoming the first MMA fighter to grace the cover of ESPN Magazine, Liddell’s impressive run come to a somewhat embarrassing halt courtesy of a Quinton “Rampage” Jackson blazing right hook. Not only did Liddell’s nemesis shake up the entire MMA world that night, he also threw the UFC into a divisional tailspin it’s yet to fully recover from.
Three years down the road and the coveted UFC light heavyweight belt has changed hands a record five times. While Jackson made a solitary title defence against Dan Henderson at UFC 75, he soon relinquished it to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86. Griffin promptly lost it to fellow TUF alumni Rashad Evans at UFC 92 who in turn lost it to Lyoto Machida at UFC 98. And the game of musical chairs continued as Machida, who despite controversially coming up trumps in their first bout, was belatedly sent packing by a surprisingly resurgent Shogun last weekend at UFC 113. While Jackson, Griffin, Evans and Machida were thoroughly deserved champions, kings they were not.
So does Mauricio “Shogun” Rua have the minerals to pick up where Liddell left off and lord over the UFC light heavyweight division?
To answer that question it might pay to take a look back over Shogun’s relatively short but storied career as even at a glance it soon becomes obvious the former Wanderlei Silva prodigy has the pedigree to do just that. Groomed at the world famous Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil, he started training Muay Thai and BJJ at an early age, earning his black-belt in just five years. Then in 2005, at only 23 years of age, he freight-trained his way through the Pride Light Heavyweight Grand Prix on his way to taking out arguably the world’s most prestigious 205-pound event at the time. And it was no easy run as stomp victims Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueria, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona will surely attest. Since leaving Japan, despite experiencing a horror run of injuries, he’s unquestionably evolved into one of the finest strikers in the UFC and sports an incredibly dangerous submission game to boot. His only apparent flaw, the suspect gas tank that let him down against Renato Sobral and Forrest Griffin, appears to be rectified.
Now, at just 28 years of age and sporting an impressive record of 19-4-0 with 17 finishes, Shogun looks for all money to possess the kind of raw physical and technical attributes that can certainly place him alongside the likes of Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre in the MMA world. And his conquest of Machida could possibly be the beginning of a lengthy win streak that sees him clean out the entire division.
So, has the UFC finally found its new light heavyweight king in Mauricio “Shogun” Rua? Absolutely… that is, until he’s dethroned by a kid nicknamed “Bones”.
To be continued…