Of all the former PRIDE superstars that have made the transition to the UFC in recent years, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua has to be considered right up there with Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ as one of the more disappointing of the bunch.
Shogun was once widely recognized as the number one light heavyweight in the world. Then, one massively disappointing performance against Forrest Griffin changed that in the blink of an eye. Earlier this year, Shogun had the opportunity to redeem himself against Mark Coleman, yet despite pulling out the victory, his stock arguably fell even further.
Rua will get another chance on April 18 at UFC 97 to prove he still belongs at the top of the light heavyweight heap, but unlike his last opponent, Chuck Liddell isn’t going to gas out in the middle of the first round. If Shogun wants to have any chance of winning a fight that some, including myself, believe he’s already at a disadvantage stylistically, he better show up looking like the Shogun who won the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix instead of the fighter who can’t catch his breath midway through the second round.
Will that happen? I don’t know, but he appears to taking the necessary steps to ensure it does. Like many fighters who have fallen on hard times, Rua has stepped away from the comforts of home to seek out a higher level of training.
“This time, I’m doing 100 percent of my preparation in Sao Paulo, [Brazil],” Rua said. “Here, I’m 100 percent focused on training; my life here is a routine, and I’m training three times a day.”
“Against Coleman I wasn’t this focused,” Rua said. “Maybe [it was] because I was at home [in Curitiba, Brazil,] with my family and I was a little relaxed. Here, I have more motivation.”
In advance of his battle against Liddell, Rua has enlisted the help of four top trainers. He invited one of the most respected men in Brazil, Sergio Cunha, to serve as his head coach. In an effort to sharpen his jiu-jitsu, he brought in middleweight contender Demian Maia, who has submitted all five of his opponents inside the Octagon. In addition, Rua hired Eric Haddad, one of the top professionals in the Sao Paulo area, to improve his much maligned conditioning. Leaving no stone unturned, he also welcomed Renato Roma, a five-time national freestyle wrestling champion, into his camp.
Maia stepped in at the request of Wanderlei Silva, one of Rua’s longtime mentors.
It certainly seems like Shogun is on the right track, but he’s not the only one who’s sought outside help for this fight. Liddell, who needs an impressive win just as bad, ventured outside his comfort zone at The Pit in San Luis Obispo to train with ATT with the intention of diversifying his game from the one-dimensional counter-puncher he’s become in recent years.
It all sounds good, but it always does. If every fighter who had a great training camp and gameplan were to win, hardly anyone would ever lose in this sport.
Obviously, it doesn’t work that way though, and come the following Sunday, writers and fans across the net will likely be questioning if one of these fighters is done in the UFC, and possibly even for good.
Who that will be is anyone’s guess at this point, but with both men’s backs against the wall, one can only hope both fighters will step up to the challenge, and deliver performances we haven’t seen from either of them in years.