'Shogun is back!!!' is the sentence that thousands of MMA fans exclaimed in unison after a viscous left hook dropped James Te Huna, a hometown hero and promising light heavyweight, this Friday in Australia. The knockout was spectacular, and given Rua's downward trend as of late, it was extremely important as well.
For years, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua has been one of the most feared strikers in the world. Devastating knockouts, a wide variety of techniques, and seemingly unlimited heart only begin to describe the complete-package superstar that is Shogun. The past three years tell a different story, however. Heading into UFC Fight Night 33, Rua had a record of 21-8. After beginning his career 19-4, he has gone 2-4 since, most recently losing to Chael Sonnen via 1st round guillotine choke. The loss marked the first two-fight losing streak of his career, leading many fans and critics to question whether all of the UFC and Pride wars were finally catching up with him.
There's an old adage in the UFC. Every fight is the most important one of a fighter's career. Once you reach a certain age/level of prestige, a win provokes cries for a title shot while a loss brings up retirement talk. In reality, there are a lot more second chances then fans are willing to let on, and a title shot is usually further away than we think. In this particular situation, more Shogun fans were wiping their brow and letting out a sigh of relief than discussing the prospect of a potential title shot in the near future. I have to admit, I was among the collective contemplating whether retirement was the best choice for Shogun, had he lost this past Friday.
Luckily, that question doesn't have to be answered quite yet, as Rua showed that he still has what it takes to not only compete with the UFC elite, but to dominate them. It is important to keep our emotions in check when evaluating Rua's true value. The facts of the situation are as follows: Rua was the #9 ranked light heavyweight in the world and Te Huna was sitting just outside the top 10. Te Huna was streaking in the right direction, more or less, but has yet to defeat a current top 10 opponent. Plus, even with this win, Rua's record since winning the title back in 2010 remains a losing one at 3-4. Make no mistake, however, this was a huge win and helps thrust Shogun back into the spotlight once again, an fact that only benefits the sport overall.
This is an interesting question as a knockout serves the dual purpose of wowing fans and leaving critics with reason to call 'fluke'. That being said, a top 10 opponent seems in the cards for the former champ next. I am still very much interested in the rematch between Rua and Little Nog that was originally scheduled for June 15, 2013, however after pulling out of his last two fights citing a back injury, Antonio Nogueira's reliability has to be called into question.
Dan Henderson has lost three fights in a row since defeating Rua back in 2011 at UFC 139, and a rematch with Rua may make sense considering their shared, questionable future in the UFC and their history fighting in Pride. There would be plenty of storylines to sell that matchup to the fans as well. Whoever he fights next, you can bet people we will be excited for it. Count myself among the hordes of eager fans, anxious to see if Shogun can do it again. Truthfully, I can't wait.