(Some of Genghis Con‘s, and “Shogun” Rua’s, best work to date.)Over at MMA Fanhouse this week, Mike Chiappetta and I discussed everything from Dream’s crazy cage to UFC 104’s biggest fights, and Mike brought up an interesting point that most of us might have missed: “Shogun” Rua is actually a slightly bigger underdog against Lyoto Machida (according to some oddsmakers) than Brett Rogers is against Fedor Emelianenko. Let that sink in for a moment. Pride GP winner and seven-year veteran of the sport Mauricio Rua (18-3), supposedly has less of a chance of beating Machida (15-0) than relative MMA newbie Brett Rogers (10-0) has against the best heavyweight on the planet, Fedor Emelianenko (30-1-1, counting his non-MMA fights).
In our discussion, I attributed this betting odds anomaly to a combination of Rogers’ one-punch knockout ability and Machida’s ninja-like defensive skills, but then I got to thinking: has Machida faced anyone, in his own weight class, with Rua’s career credentials?
Here’s a quick Shogun refresher for you. In the last five years he’s picked up victories against: “Rampage” Jackson, Akihiro Gono, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem (twice), Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman, Cyrille Diabate, Mark Coleman, and Chuck Liddell, just to name a few. In that same time he’s lost fights against Mark Coleman (via freak injury) and Forrest Griffin. Rua apologists will insist that the Griffin loss and the poor, though victorious showing in the second Coleman fight are both attributable to his recent knee injuries and a gradual recovery from surgery.
But whether you want to believe that or not, it’s hard to find any light heavyweights on Machida’s resume who have records like Rua’s. His recent wins over Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva were dominant and impressive, but they were both against up-and-comers who hadn’t been in the kind of wars that Rua endured during his Pride days. Before that he beat a declining Tito Ortiz, a thoroughly-hapless-unless-he’s-fighting-Super-Hulks Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, and a very mediocre Kazuhiro Nakamura.
Wins over David Heath, Sam Hoger, and Vernon White are nice, but expected, and victories against B.J. Penn and Rich Franklin only prove that he can beat guys who either have no business fighting at the weight (Penn) or have since proved that they are better off in another division (Franklin).
In other words, Machida has yet to face the kind of straight-up buzz saw of a fighter that Rua was in Pride. Since then Shogun seems to have toned down the all-out aggression a bit, but that will probably only help him against a guy like Machida, who is custom made to evade and destroy overly aggressive fighters. At least on paper, this may be his toughest test yet.
That said, just because he’s in for a challenge that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t up for it. The guy hasn’t lost a round in his UFC career, let alone a fight. Regardless of who he’s up against, he deserves to be the favorite. But maybe, just maybe, Rua is the guy to push him further than anyone else has. And wouldn’t that be something to see.