UFC Sao Paulo: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — Light Heavyweight’s Last Samurai

When reminiscing about Pride Fighting Championship, the popular Japanese MMA organization that dominated the market in the early-to-mid 2000s before it was purchased by the UFC, fans tend to think of its greatest participants. Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mark Coleman, Mirko Cro Cop — the list is seemingly endless.

Today, many of these legends are in their forties and fifties, and most are retired. However, there is one 37-year-old legend of Pride that is still experiencing success in the UFC. In fact, he is one of the only veterans (along with Alistair Overeem and Robbie Lawler) still ranked in the top 15 of his respective division. Enter: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.

At UFC on ESPN+22, Shogun will make the walk to the octagon once again, as he is set to square off against Scottish grappling ace, Paul Craig. For many fight fans, it feels as though Shogun has been a part of MMA since its birth, embedded in the very fabric of fighting. From his unprecedented 2005 run in Pride that saw him win the middleweight tournament — to his first-round, title winning knockout of the undefeated Lyoto Machida — the legend of Shogun Rua has only grown in strength over the years. Although no longer the unstoppable cyclone that most fighters avoided like the plague, Shogun is widely considered as one of the few remaining fighters of a bygone era, one that emphasized ruthless aggression, unbridled finishing instinct, and beautiful technique.

Shogun, 4-1 in his last 5 fights, is coming off of a third round TKO victory over New Zealand’s prospect, Tyson Pedro. The fight saw both men rocked and staggered on numerous occasions. However, it was Shogun, one never known to go quietly into that good night, that persevered and swarmed Pedro in the final round. The win was seen as a definitive statement. The aging Brazilian icon is not an easy win. He is not just a popular name to add to your resume. He is not a highlight reel finish. In fact, Pedro has yet to fight since the December 2018 loss. He was forced to undergo knee surgery due to the damage sustained in the bout. The message was clear: Shogun is still a remarkably violent and dangerous fighter, hell-bent on making one last run for the gold.

Rua was originally set to face striker Sam Alvey, but he was replaced by Craig on just over three weeks notice. Now, Shogun is facing an entirely different style of fighter. Whereas Alvey is a plodding, patient counter-striker, Craig is a hyper-aggressive grappler unafraid of brawling that rarely takes a back step. Historically, Shogun has experienced success against aggressive fighters, with notable finishes over James Te Huna, Gian Villante, and Brandon Vera — all fighters that were willing to meet Shogun in the middle.

Craig, the former BAMMA light heavyweight champion, is 4-4 in the UFC, with all of his wins by submission. Craig has never gone the distance in his entire career, with over 60% of his fights ending in the very first round. He is fresh off of a September rear-naked choke victory over Vinicius Moreira. This fight marks the most high-profile fight of Craig’s career as he and Shogun will share the co-main event slot on Saturday. Craig admittedly jumped at the prospect of replacing Alvey, repeatedly referring to the fight as a career-altering opportunity. For Craig, a win over Shogun would propel him into the top 15 of the division and extend his winning streak to two for the first time in his UFC career.

Although many do not think this fight will do much for Shogun’s career resume, a win is vitally important, beyond the standard necessity for wins in MMA. A loss would likely signal the end for Shogun’s title aspirations as he turns 38 in November, and the division is being injected with fresh, well-rounded blood on a near-monthly basis. However, a win would serve as a lighthouse in the rough waters of his place in the division. A sign that Shogun is still willing and able to compete with the elite fighters at light heavyweight. Will Craig’s career skyrocket or will Shogun continue his legacy as an all-time great? Perhaps the best aspect of this sport is that we will find out in just a few short days.

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