The Rear Naked Column 08.19.11: Griffin vs. Shogun: The Rematch
Posted by Samer Kadi on 08.19.2011
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Forrest Griffin are set to collide in the co-main event at UFC 134 this month! 411's Samer Kadi takes a look at the highly-anticipated rematch and offers his analysis in this full preview!
For their long awaited return to Rio, it is unsurprising to see the UFC stack the card with some of Brazil's finest. In the show's main event, arguably the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen, and without a doubt the best fighter to emerge out of Brazil, Anderson "The Spider" Silva will defend his middleweight title. Silva's longtime mentor and Brazilian MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will also step inside the Octagon for the first time in almost eighteen months.
In between, the less celebrated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua will bid to avenge his 2007 loss to Forrest Griffin. Despite a stellar resume and a place among the sport's all time greats, Rua has never gotten the recognition in Brazil that some of his peers were able to enjoy. Nogueira, Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, and Wanderlei Silva have all managed to capture the hearts of their adoring compatriots. And while "Shogun" definitely possesses his fair share of Brazilian fans, he remains a touch behind in terms of popularity (ironically, the fanfare around him seems to be bigger elsewhere). This could be due to being in Wanderlei Silva's shadow during his run in PRIDE, or the inconsistency that he displayed in the UFC, but a win over the man who spoiled his Octagon debut could go a long way in enhancing Rua's popularity in his home country.
While the result of their initial encounter is to date considered one of the sport's most infamous upsets, the events that subsequently transpired slightly diminish the surprising nature of the outcome. Forrest Griffin went on to capture the UFC light heavyweight title, and has since defeated former champions Quinton Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. For his part, Rua eventually found his footing inside the cage and became the sport's 205-pound kingpin when he dethroned Lyoto Machida.
Much has been made of Rua coming in injured in their 2007 bout. With the addition of that fight being Rua's UFC debut, the Brazilian seems to be given a bit of a pass for that disappointing performance. However, while he did look to be somewhat unprepared and his cardio left a lot to be desired, the fight remains usefully telling.
Rua has always been someone who likes to fight at his own pace. Whether it is a methodical approach like the one he employed against Lyoto Machida in their first fight, or the frantic ultra-aggressive mentality he displayed in the Rogerio Nogueira bout, "Shogun" excels when he's dictating the tempo. If his opponent takes the initiative and forces Rua to fight on his terms, then "Shogun's" gas tank suffers. In many ways, Rua's cardio is akin to that of BJ Penn where he's usually fine as long as he's in control, but tends to tire off quickly when things don't go his way. Of course, like Penn, there have been fights where "Shogun" inexplicably gassed. That was the case in the Mark Coleman fight back in 2009, where it was clear that Rua was in no fighting shape.
By contrast, Griffin's conditioning has always been up to flight. He will no doubt look to press the action and do to Rua what he did to him in their first encounter. While some of Rua's fights in PRIDE show that he is no stranger to fast paced action, most of them ended in the first round. The Rogerio Nogueira bout – which did go to a decision – saw a noticeably tired "Shogun" manage to catch his breath by securing multiple takedowns late in the fight.
Unlike Chuck Liddell and to a lesser extent Lyoto Machida, Griffin will not provide Rua with a still target. He will utilize his footwork and throw plenty of combinations. The mistake that Machida did in both his encounters with "Shogun" was that he didn't use his movement the way he normally does. That allowed Rua to control distance, throw plenty of kicks to the legs and body, and close in when he saw fit. While Forrest is unlikely to fall to that same trap, especially after the success he had in their first fight, he will be at a distinct speed disadvantage.
An in-shape Rua is one of the fastest fighters at 205, and he is deceptively explosive when he moves forward. Despite his punching technique being at times quite sloppy, "Shogun" makes up for it with his quickness and great sense of timing. He knows when and how to rush forward, and is rarely content to throw one punch at a time. Rua is also known for his striking diversity, as his stand-up also relies on his great kicking ability, which almost led him to championship glory at UFC 104. He is equally adept from close-quarters, and is good at throwing elbows in the clinch in addition to his famed Chute Boxe knees.
For his part, Forrest will look to outwork his opponent, as he always does. Griffin himself possesses good leg kicks. He does a good job at not throwing kicks as single strikes, particularly when going to the head or body, and instead uses them to finish combinations. He will often throw 1-2 combos and finish them off with a body kick. However, Griffin will also be at a power disadvantage.
Rua definitely packs up the bigger punch (and kick for that matter), and also happens to be more durable in terms of withstanding damage. He possesses one of the best chins in the sport and his ability to absorb blows to the body and show little signs of discomfort is quite astounding. On the other hand, Griffin's chin isn't the best, and it may well not be able to handle Rua's power.
Both fighters' main weakness happens to be their takedown defense. In fact, in their 2007 contest, each competitor had a relatively easy time scoring takedowns. A gassed Rua was still able to score with takedowns, while Griffin was successful with the majority of his takedown attempts as well. In the Rich Franklin fight, Griffin was more than willing to utilize his wrestling and size to secure victory. He did a fine job at staying tight, giving Franklin little room to maneuver from the bottom, and occasionally scoring with short elbows. Likewise, Rua's offensive wrestling has always been somewhat underrated, as he does a good job at closing distance and dropping down for trip takedowns.
Should Rua find himself on the bottom, he will look to secure half-guard sweeps, helicopter sweeps, omoplatas and leg locks. Rua's dynamic bottom game comes at a price however, as it leaves him vulnerable to damage if he is unsuccessful, as witnessed in the Jon Jones fight. And while Griffin is certainly no Jon Jones from the top, he is capable of landing his fair share of blows should the opportunity arise. In their first fight, Rua continuously rolling for leg locks allowed Griffin the opportunity to take his back on more than one occasion, and forced "Shogun" to turtle up and defend.
Griffin's bottom game, while underrated from an offensive perspective, is less threatening and at times, quite sloppy from a defensive perspective. Forrest has a habit of getting a bit lazy when it comes to getting underhooks/overhooks from the bottom and controlling his opponent's posture. This was on display in the Tito Ortiz, Keith Jardine and Rashad Evans fights. Rua possesses some dangerous elbows from the top, and his ground-and-pound in general is not something Forrest would want to experience. If he has his opponent hurt, Rua has some of the best killer instinct in all of MMA and a stoppage will be imminent. Therefore, Forrest needs to be quite careful should he find himself on his back.
Ever since this fight was announced, I've been on the fence regarding the final outcome. Rua's reunion with Rafael Cordeiro should definitely help him now that he's decided to train in the United States for this fight. Moreover, he ostensibly should be going in healthier than he did the first time around. However, watching their UFC 76 encounter gave me pause. Griffin staying in Rua's face the entire time rattled the Brazilian, and there is little doubt that Forrest will look to do the same once again. In addition, Rua's lack of takedown defense was problematic then, and it will likely remain problematic now. However, I do think Rua's striking has looked considerably better since that fight, and his more measured approach should allow him to catch Griffin with a trademark uneducated overhand right before finishing him off with some UFC 113-style ground-and-pound.
REMINDER: Be sure to check out the latest edition of the 411 Ground and Pound radio show. Mark Radulich was doing his usual hosting duties and was joined by Scott Kuczkowski, Jeffrey Harris and yours truly to talk Golden Glory/UFC drama, Fedor Emelianenko and preview UFC on Versus 5. Tune in again next Sunday at 11 am eastern as we will have the most stacked show to date. In addition to previewing UFC 134: Rio, we will take an in-depth look at the UFC/FOX deal.