• UFC 126

Time is ticking on the reign of Mauricio Shogun Rua

Ben Blackmore
February 7, 2011
Mauricio Shogun Rua is one of the most devastating strikers to have ever set foot inside the Octagon © UFC

Mauricio Shogun Rua's reign as king of the light-heavyweight terrain will enter into its 10th month in March, but the Brazilian faces the very real prospect of his first title defence becoming his last after Sunday's announcement that he will fight Jon Jones.

The threat to Rua's crown has become a giant one - both figuratively and literally - with 6ft 5in phenomenon Jones replacing injured friend Rashad Evans at UFC 128. Evans describes his enforced withdrawal as a major "missed opportunity", words that will carry even greater meaning if Jones becomes champion - leaving Evans in no-man's land after promising never to fight his younger team-mate.

He may well live to regret that promise.

The above statement is not to be seen as a derisory analysis of Shogun's immense array of skills, moreover an acknowledgement of the sheer talent at Jones' disposal. UFC chief Marshall Zelaznik recently stated, "If GSP was MMA fighter 2.0, Jon Jones is model 3.0", while Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer tipped Bones Jones to eventually take on Muhammad Ali-like status. These men live and breathe MMA, they spend their lives mixing professionally and socially with the sport's top coaches and leading fighters; they know the UFC has a special talent on its books.

Saturday's victory over Ryan Bader - via guillotine choke - finally cemented what many of us already suspected, that Jones has the strength, skills and natural fighting instinct to embarrass the sport's top competitors. The Spiderman-like leap in order to take Bader's back was sheer creativity - a move not even Greg Jackson would have taught Jones in the gym. Bader had dominated some of MMA's top names, including Keith Jardine and Rogerio Nogueira, yet his toolbox was rendered useless inside two rounds.

The last time such a high profile bout saw one man move the other around like furniture in a new house, Cain Velasquez was putting a serious beating on Ben Rothwell. "Big Ben" was getting the same treatment suffered by Cheick Kongo four months earlier, and a year later Velasquez now has UFC gold strapped around his waist.

Jon Jones completely manhandled one of the best wrestlers in the UFC © Getty Images

Admittedly Jones has six weeks - not the eight months Velasquez had - to tune himself up for the first five-rounder of his career, but then again the ragdoll being manipulated by Jones in Las Vegas was Ryan Bader - an All American wrestler approaching his prime, not a less-than-athletic kickboxer with questionable cardio by the name of Rothwell. Aside from Jones and possibly Evans, there isn't another fighter currently in the 205lb division that boasts a better takedown offence than Bader, yet the way he was left clutching at thin air sparked memories of Demian Maia's desperate attempts to get a grip on Anderson Silva.

The ridiculous 84½in reach and extraordinary height difference possessed by Jones left Bader with a chasm to close in order to get into the fight in Las Vegas, and a similar size difference between Shogun and Jones was clear for all to see when the pair shook hands inside the Octagon.

Shogun does - of course - boast an electric Muay Thai game laden with sizzling body kicks and pinpoint hands, a standard of striking Jones is yet to face. Like his bottom game, Jones' stand-up is relatively untested on a world class level. That will change against Shogun, a man who has destroyed Lyoto Machida, Rampage Jackson and Chuck Liddell.

However, Shogun has the greater problems to deal with. The last time Rua spent a considerable amount of time sidelined by injury, he made an incredibly sluggish return against the 44-year-old figure of Mark Coleman. A repeat this time would be catastrophic. If the Brazilian is to triumph against Jones, his footwork, aggression and speed will be key, but the reach difference will dictate that Shogun will have to commit - either when kicking or attempting to land a killer blow - allowing Jones ample opportunity to take the fight out of the champion's comfort zone.

It would be difficult to argue the claim that, despite Rua's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, the fight belongs to Jones in every department other than the striking realm. Even the clinch plays into the hands of the Greco-Roman grappler. As Zelaznik suggests, Shogun - an MMA legend in his own right - is about to face the new generation of UFC fighter.

Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to Jones is that he has opened up as favourite with bookmakers to win on March 19; no other fighter in the light-heavyweight division would be afforded the same respect. At 23 years of age, Jones admits he idolises the legendary figures of Randy Couture and Anderson Silva. Come UFC 128, he can take the first step towards emulating them both.

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