Shogun's Quest - Conquer the UFC Light Heavyweight Division

Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Without question, it's tough to be a professional fighter, to train for countless hours, sacrifice, suffer, and then be judged on how you perform for 15 minutes or so in front of thousands, when one second of lost focus could be the difference between victory and defeat.

The perks aren't so bad though. Just ask light heavyweight standout Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who recently spent some time with Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima during a photoshoot for Vanity Fair magazine. Now who among us red-blooded males wouldn't mind taking a few punches to the face for that?

By Thomas Gerbasi

Without question, it's tough to be a professional fighter, to train for countless hours, sacrifice, suffer, and then be judged on how you perform for 15 minutes or so in front of thousands, when one second of lost focus could be the difference between victory and defeat.

The perks aren't so bad though. Just ask light heavyweight standout Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who recently spent some time with Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima during a photoshoot for Vanity Fair magazine. Now who among us red-blooded males wouldn't mind taking a few punches to the face for that?

"It was great," Rua told through translator Julio Heller when asked about the photo feature in the magazine's September issue. "She's very professional and beautiful, and all the staff gave me a lot of attention, including the photographer, Mario Testino. It was a very good opportunity to promote my country. Plus, I worked as a model a few years ago and I enjoyed the experience."

But the 25-year old Rua doesn't have time for much posing these days, as he will not only be married this Saturday to his fiance Renata, but he will also be coming back to the United States on September 22nd to begin the UFC chapter of his career against Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. And as usual, when it comes to fighting, Rua is all business.

"I'm a very calm guy," he admits. "Some of my friends told me that they don't understand how I deal with some difficult situations in my career, and I know that I will soon face the biggest challenge in my life. The UFC is the main goal for all the fighters around the world and I understand my responsibility, but I can tell you: I don't want to be one more on the line, I want to be the UFC champion."

First he will have to get by Griffin, who on paper and given his past history is the perfect debut opponent. He is a certified UFC star based on his win on season one of The Ultimate Fighter series and his subsequent fights in the Octagon, and maybe even more importantly, he has shown a tendency to get away from his gameplan in an attempt to slug it out with his opponents. Against Rua, a reckless slugfest could mean a quick trip back to the locker room. The Curitiba resident isn't making the mistake of listening to the oddsmakers though.

"In this sport it is very difficult to talk about being the favorite before the fights," said Rua. "See the example of (Mirko) Cro Cop and (Gabriel) Gonzaga. So to be honest, I don't spend my time thinking about that; I prefer to be focused in my training, and well prepared so I will always be confident for any fight."

That's a good call, because Griffin showed in his last fight with Hector Ramirez in June that he could fight a disciplined and effective three rounder. Plus, he wasn't thrown to the wolves for this fight he asked for "Shogun", which means he must see something he can take advantage of on fight night.

Whatever it is though, it's something most of us civilians haven't seen, as Rua has been nearly perfect throughout an almost five-year career which has encompassed 18 fights and a stint in PRIDE that saw him win the organization's Grand Prix title in 2005 by beating future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona. In fact, to some observers and fans, Rua is the best 205-pounder in the world, a mythical title that will be put to the test in the Octagon in the coming months.

"There are some tough guys in this division, a lot of people running for the belt," said Rua. "But see how life is funny, the actual UFC Champion, Quinton Jackson, I beat him in the first round of the PRIDE Grand Prix two years ago, he lost twice to Wanderlei (Silva) and he got the UFC belt from Chuck (Liddell) in less than two minutes. As I told you, it is very difficult to make any kind of prediction about these fights. I know that on my way to the belt I will face Forrest, then maybe Quinton or (Dan) Henderson, and I'm ready to go. I respect them all, they are professionals like me and it's time to prove that I can be the number one in this division."

It won't be an easy road, as in addition to Jackson, Liddell, Henderson, and Griffin, there are a host of other 205 pounders near the top of the list, including Tito Ortiz and Rashad Evans, along with up and comers like Lyoto Machida, Keith Jardine, Michael Bisping, Houston Alexander, and Alessio Sakara, who would also love to get their hands on Rua and add his high-profile name to their resumes.

"Its part of the business," said Rua, who is mature beyond his 25 years. "When I started, I had a lot of fighters that I wanted to beat, because the respect comes from your results. The important thing here is to keep your mind focused on your challenges. Every fight we must prove something, and knowing that there are a lot of fighters looking for my place is very good to keep me motivated."

And despite his success thus far, there are a lot of challenges for Rua come September. First, and most importantly, he must adjust to fighting in the Octagon. It may seem like a simple switch, as a fight's a fight, but ask Mirko Cro Cop after his loss to Gabriel Gonzaga if he wished he had more time training and adjusting to the Octagon after years of fighting in a ring. Rua's ready for the change of fighting real estate though.

"I'm not concerned about the transition," he said. "My training in the last two months is inside the Octagon, and a few years ago I fought twice in the Octagon. The main difference is in the rules, but my team is making the adjustments and from now my kicks can be replaced by the elbows."

That's challenge number two, as Rua, a member of the famed Chute Boxe team, made a name for himself with the devastating soccer kicks that are outlawed here in the States. Take those away from most fighters, and you could be looking at a different fighter altogether. But Rua is not most fighters, and with his aggression, his acumen standing or on the ground, plus the elbows on the ground that he couldn't use in Japan, and the danger factor is just as prevalent here in the States as it was in the Land of the Rising Sun. Plus, Rua didn't look like he lost anything off his fastball when he fought here in the States under the unified MMA rules in PRIDE wins over Kevin Randleman and Alistair Overeem.

The final challenge for Rua is to replicate his superstar status here in the States. Luckily, unlike some of his peers from PRIDE, he has fought here before not only in PRIDE's two US shows in 2006 and 2007, but back in 2003, when arrived in Denver as a 3-0 prospect looking to make a name for himself by fighting in an IFC tournament packed with fighters like Griffin, Renato Babalu' Sobral, Jeremy Horn, Chael Sonnen, and Trevor Prangley. And while Rua impressed with a TKO win over Eric Wanderlei, in his next fight that night, "Shogun" was submitted in the third round by the eventual tournament winner, Sobral.

"The first fight was very difficult," remembered Rua. "It was my debut in an international event and I had a lot of pressure, but I won. In the second one I fought against Babalu, and at that time he had more experience than me. He used his Jiu-Jitsu skills and I was very tired from the first fight of the night. But I learned a lot with that defeat, the only one that I consider in my career."

He also learned that if you fight your heart out and put on an entertaining fight, US fans will do whatever it takes to see you fight again. That's why the buzz is already considerable for his Octagon debut next month.

"The crowd in the USA is fantastic," said Rua. "The Japanese fans are great, but in America the excitement inside the arena is totally different. I felt very comfortable in the two PRIDE events in Las Vegas, all the fans were very friendly and I'm very motivated for my debut in UFC. I know that Forrest is very famous in USA because of the reality show, and probably the American fans will support him, so my challenge will be to give a wonderful show, a beautiful fight and a great victory to bring the American fans to my side."

Gaining fans won't be a problem for Rua. After losing to Sobral in September of 2003, he would make his PRIDE debut less than a month later, knocking out Akira Shoji in the first round of the first Bushido show. Over the next three-plus years, he was unstoppable, with his lone loss in the organization coming when he suffered a freak elbow injury less than a minute into his match against Mark Coleman in February of 2006 and the bout was stopped. The biggest win, of course, was against Jackson in 2005.

"Two years ago he was the star in PRIDE, and I was the new guy from Brazil," said Rua of his first round win over "Rampage". "I knew that the fight would be difficult, he beat Ninja (Rua's brother Murilo) before in a very controversial result, and this was my opportunity to avenge my brother. At the end, the fight was easier than everyone could imagine. Now, the reality is totally different, he's the champion, a star in UFC, and I'm still the new guy from Brazil. (Laughs) let's see how this ends."

It's a rematch anyone would want to see, including Jackson, along with a bout against the man "Rampage" beat for the title and the one sharing the spotlight with him on September 22nd Liddell.

"For sure, I want to fight with the top fighters of the division and Chuck is one of them," said Rua. "He will probably be in my way for the belt. With the loss to "Rampage" he moved a step behind, but I know that he will be fighting in the UFC 76, so let's see our results and talk there."

Are you excited yet? If you're not, I'm sure there's a tennis match or some golf tournament going on near you. But if you're a fight fan, the endless intriguing matchups with Rua's name attached to them mean that the 205-pound division will be hot for a while. And the scary part is, Rua's only 25 and he's getting better.

"It's natural, I'm a little older now," he laughs when asked what he owes his progress as a fighter to. "I try to learn with the all experiences that I had in my life - the good ones like the PRIDE Grand Prix title, and other difficult moments like the injury in the fight again Coleman. These kinds of situations help me to become a better person and a better fighter. And there is no progress without training, so I try to develop my skills in different martial arts and try to reach a high level, because to be the number one it is necessary to be a complete fighter."

And as a Muay Thai ace as well as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, Rua is a well-rounded fighter who is dangerous wherever the fight takes him. He also has that extra something that all the hours in the gym couldn't give him natural talent. But what makes him special is that he trains harder than fighters with just a fraction of the gifts he was born with.

"I started to train with my older brother Ninja when I was 17 years old," he explains. "My background is in Muay Thai, and then came the Jiu-Jitsu and the mixed martial arts. I think that 50% is talent and the other 50% comes from the training. It is impossible to be someone in this sport only with natural talent; it is necessary to spend a lot of time inside the academy, training hard."

It doesn't hurt to have your brother pushing you every day either.

"Murilo is my hero, the guy that showed the way for me," said Rua of his brother, a fellow PRIDE veteran who has settled into the middleweight division. "He is the guy that brought me to the Academy, and he was a good example inside the house, as an athlete and a person. I respect him a lot, he passed a lot of difficult moments in his career and now he's very happy fighting in USA, so it motivates me a lot. The funny thing is that we have very different personalities - I'm a very calm guy and Murilo is very anxious, but the main thing is that we are both are running for our goals, he already has a belt in the USA, and now is my chance."

So how long does "Shogun" think it will take him to get his shot at the winner of UFC 75's unification bout between Jackson and Henderson?

"I don't know, I think that you must ask Mr. Dana White, because he's the guy to answer this question," said Rua. "I can tell you that I'm ready to go; I will work hard and be prepared for the title shot, I'm just asking for the opportunity."

First, he has to get by a tough opponent in Forrest Griffin on September 22nd. After that, the possibilities are endless. But whoever Rua fights, expect plenty of fireworks.

"I don't like to promise victories but I can promise that I will try to do my best," said Rua. "Let's see how things go step by step. Now is my debut in the UFC, I'm training hard and I want to show an aggressive style inside the cage with a great victory. Then we can discuss the future, but you know that I want the belt."

Go to for more detail on UFC 76.