Let me get this out of the way right now, I am an unapologetic Shogun fanatic. It’s cliche to claim to be one of the biggest fans of anything, being a fan creates hyperbole, so I’m not going to do that, I’m simply going to tell a few disjointed stories to prove my point. The UFC Fan Expo in Boston, the infamous Bloodstain Lane and myself got in line on four separate occasions to meet Shogun, which ended up culminating in a picture that encapsulated the moment perfectly, as you can see above. UFC 113 this pretty lady asked me to hang out, I told her that I was going to watch the fights and if we were to hang out, it’d have to be at some place we can watch the fights. It was decided that we’d go to Buffalo Wild Wings, most people would be a normal human being on a date with a pretty lady, that wasn’t the case with me. She tried to tell me that she didn’t know who she wanted to win, I told her that she wanted Shogun to win. After Shogun defeated Machida, most people would’ve smiled did a fist pump and left, nope, not me, I felt the need to stand on top of the booth and scream Shogun as the restaurant exploded with cheers. Needless to say, I never went on a date with that pretty lady again. UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey, I bought vale tudo shorts and a Croatian flag to bring to the fights, which culminated in one of the saddest moments in my life as a sports fan. Why am I telling you all of this? To set the stage for one fans perspective on the legend that is Maurício “Shogun” Rua
Shogun’s Pride career started off as a simple one, he was a member of the legendary Chute Boxe Academy and more importantly the protégé of then Pride Middleweight champion, Wanderlei Silva. He came into Pride destroying much smaller opponents than he, but he beat them in spectacular fashion. He never was tested going into the 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix, up to that point he lost one fight with Babalu and outside of a fight with Cyborg Santos in Meca World Vale Tudo, he was never tested, he was never in trouble.
That would change in the 2005 MWGP, quite possibly the tournament with the most talent in the history of combat sports, seven out of the sixteen participants held or would go onto hold a major title in combat sports, you bump that number up to eight if you count Sakuraba winning the UFC Japan tournament. With a tournament that included so many killers, people weren’t expecting much from this mostly unknown commodity. What followed was one of the four of the most violent fights one could ever witness.
This streak would start off with none other than Rampage Jackson. Shogun turned in a performance that was breathtaking for it’s sheer dominance as much as it was for it’s sheer violence. Shogun demonstrated his brilliance culminating in a image that will be forever engrained into the minds of MMA fans, of dazed Rampage trying to escape the ring as he’s eating a series of soccer kicks.
Shogun would then go on to face Antônio Rogério Nogueira in the quarter finals. There are times when I watch a fight, when I can only help but laugh. It’s not meant to be disrespectful in anyway, just what I am watching is so unbelievable that I laugh. Every single time I watch this fight, I laugh uncontrollably. The amount of abuse both fighters take is breathtaking, the human body shouldn’t be able to absorb that much impact. Shogun displayed something we didn’t get to see that much from up to this point, that was his superior grappling on the ground to take home the decision. It was a stunning fight that will go down as one of the best ever.
Then on August 28th, 2005 one of the greatest if not the greatest MMA card took place. With the finale of the MWGP and maybe the most important fight in MMA history, Mirko Cro Cop vs Fedor Emelianenko going down, the excitement in the air was palpable. The expected outcome was going to be an anticlimactic one, with Wanderlei Silva and Shogun Rua thought to come out victorious over their opponents. Shogun stated that he wouldn’t fight his mentor and he’d forfeit the fight. Ricardo Arona had different plans, defeating The Axe Murderer by decision, Shogun had to overcome the Dutch product Alistair Overeem for the chance to avenge Wanderlei. In a fight that was back and forth for the first few minutes, Shogun began to tire out Overeem with his grappling, finishing him with some furious ground and pound.
The finals were set, Arona vs. Shogun for the 2005 MWGP. Arona came out aggressive, looking to land a takedown and use some of his ADCC level grappling. He never got a chance to showcase his skillset. In less than three minutes, Shogun left him flat on the canvas, unconscious.
This was it, this is what was the start of a legendary career. What we didn’t know is that this would be the peak of Shogun’s talent.
Five fights later Shogun would find himself in the UFC, facing Forrest Griffin, a fight that most people thought was almost a showcase fight for Shogun. It didn’t turn out that way. Shogun went into the fight with torn ligaments in his knee, which hampered him greatly, costing him his cardio and his ability to train. Two knee surgeries and a lackluster performance vs. Mark Coleman later, he’d find himself matched up with UFC posterboy Chuck Liddell. We saw a different Shogun than in the past two fights, we saw a Shogun that was both fast and nimble. It was an impressive victory, knocking out “The Iceman” late in the first round. With as impressive of a victory it was, some had to wonder, was this Shogun regaining his former glory, or was this Chuck on the back end of his career?
Shogun would answer that in his next fight with the UFC light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida. Lyoto was a mystery, we never saw someone with that style rise that high. Machida was never even challenged up to this point, surely a Shogun with two major knee surgeries wouldn’t be the guy to defeat Machida. He did, in what was one of the most technical striking matches I have ever witnessed in MMA. Shogun peppered Machida with kicks the entire night, never letting him do something and be unpunished. Finally, after everything Shogun has been through, the match ended. This is his moment, he’s finally proven himself to the american audience we never got to enjoy his body of work in Pride. He was UFC champi… how could this happen? Shogun clearly won the fight, yet all three judges score the fight for Machida. The judges robbed Shogun of what was his. Thankfully Shogun got another chance to prove himself in a rematch.
How would Shogun go into this fight? He couldn’t go in with the same exact gameplan, how would he defeat Machida twice? Could it even be done? It could. Shogun came forward and didn’t stop, landing a right hand that grazed off of Machida’s temple. Machida would go down and Shogun would mount him for the finish. Finally Shogun was UFC champion, after a journey that seemed as if it would never end, his quest was over. This would be the last time we saw Shogun fight at an elite level. News came out that Shogun tore knee ligaments during the fight and was scheduled for a third knee surgery.
His next six fights were a display of a fighter who was fighting with more heart than talent. We’d see a split second of greatness, a split second of a fighter who won the 2005 MWGP and the UFC LHW championship. Then we’d see minutes upon agonizing minutes of a fighter who had three knee surgeries. This past weekend was the epitome of Shogun post his third knee surgery. He just isn’t the same fighter he was. Hell, when he won the UFC title he wasn’t the same fighter he was in Pride. He learned to fight differently, he learned to fight with the body that he had and he did his best. With Shogun no longer fighting at an elite level at the age of 31, it’s gut wrenching. This isn’t how it was suppose to end, Shogun was suppose to have a reign of terror over the LHW division for years. Now he’s losing to one dimensional middleweights. This isn’t the fairytale ending that we wanted, it wasn’t the fairytale ending that we deserved.
Shogun is the a sad tale of a generational talent who fought through adversity as long as he could, a fighter who achieved greatness on a knees that had been surgically repaired twice. While Shogun losing is beyond sad, depressing even, it isn’t a time to be depressed. If Shogun never won a fight again after he had two knee surgeries, he’d still be an all time great, yet he won a UFC title. What happened post UFC 113 is irrelevant. Nothing that Shogun does will tarnish what he has accomplished. This is a time to be happy that we got to witness such a great fighter. A fighter that made violence graceful, a fighter that left everything he had in the ring, a fighter named Maurício "Shogun" Rua.