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UFC 97 Morning After: Don't Forget Shogun Rua

Coming out of UFC 97, two stories will dominate the discussions: Anderson Silva looking unimpressive and needing to go the distance to win his ninth straight fight, and Chuck Liddell probably walking out of the Octagon for the final time. I agree that those are the two big stories of the night, but I'd urge mixed martial arts fans not to forget a third: Shogun Rua is back.

For those who didn't follow Japanese MMA, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was an absolute monster fighting in Pride from 2003 to 2007. In just three and a half years he assembled a 12-1 record, with nine of those wins coming by knockout or TKO. When Rua beat Liddell by first-round TKO Saturday night in Montreal, we saw the Rua of old.

It would be easy to just say that Liddell is over the hill and move on, but that doesn't even come close to telling the whole story. Rua was quick, powerful and light on his feet in beating Liddell, and he showed some of the same dynamic striking that made him such a force in Pride. When Rua is on his game, he's devastating -- just ask Rampage Jackson, who lasted less than five minutes in a loss to Rua in 2005. Now Rua's on his game.

It's easy to understand why some UFC fans might not be sold on Rua just yet. After all, prior to beating Liddell, his UFC record was 1-1, with a yearlong layoff between a lackluster win over Mark Coleman in 2009 and a loss to Forrest Griffin in 2008. But that was the Rua who was struggling with serious knee injuries requiring multiple surgeries. Against Liddell we finally saw what a healthy Rua looks like. And remember: For as long as he's been around, he's still only 27 years old.

I hope we see Rua in the Octagon again soon, and I hope it's against an opponent who can give him a tough test. Maybe it's Luiz Cane, who looked impressive in beating Steve Cantwell Saturday night. Maybe it's Keith Jardine, who has a style that could frustrate Rua. If I can dream, maybe it's Anderson Silva, who could use an opponent who wouldn't let him get away with being passive.

But whoever his next opponent is, I'm excited about seeing the next act of Shogun Rua's career.

My favorite sights of UFC 97
1. The panoramic view on the TV broadcast of the Bell Centre, which gave a great look at just how huge a crowd the UFC draws in Montreal. The UFC announced an all-time attendance record of 21,451.
2. Georges St Pierre, looking dapper as ever in his suit, calmly taking in the roar of the crowd when his face was shown on the big screens in the arena. St. Pierre is one of those athletes who always knows the right way to act around the fans; he acknowledged their cheers but also understood that this night was not about him. He's a class act.
3. Cane's complex kickboxing combinations in his win over Cantwell. I don't know if there's a fighter in MMA right now whose striking is more underrated than Cane's. Cane is 10-1, with eight wins by KO/TKO and the only loss coming by disqualification because of a knee to the head on the ground. Every single opponent Cane has fought has felt just how powerful a striker he is.

Quotes of UFC 97
"At this point, this is the most important fight of my career." -- Chuck Liddell, speaking to the fans watching at home in the first words spoken on the pay-per-view broadcast.

"I don't want him to fight anymore. ... I don't care how much he draws. I don't want to see him get hurt." -- UFC President Dana White, speaking to the media after Liddell lost.

UFC 97 Awards
Fight of the Night: Sam Stout vs. Matt Wiman, for their three-round war that, through what turned out to be a stroke of good luck for the fans at home, ended up being televised live on the pay-per-view broadcast even though it was originally not scheduled to be shown on TV.

Knockout of the Night: Shogun Rua. No matter how painful it was to see Liddell knocked out, no one can question that Shogun deserves to be rewarded for the way he fought.

Submission of the Night: Krzysztof Soszynski, for getting Brian Stann to tap from a kimura in the first round.

Stout, Wiman, Rua and Soszynski each get $70,000 bonuses.

Good call: As much as I don't think fans should overlook Rua, UFC announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan were right to put the emphasis after the fight on Liddell. It's been a long, honorable MMA career for The Iceman, and on the night of what was probably his last fight, that career deservedto be celebrated.

Bad call: It's not referee Yves Lavigne's fault that Silva-Leites was a slow-paced affair, but he could have done more to encourage action. Referees routinely tell the fighters to get moving, and during that stunning, action-free first minute of Silva-Leites, Lavigne should have spoken up. And late in the fight, Lavigne easily could have deducted a point from Leites for repeatedly flopping on his back. One of the jobs of the referee is to enforce the rule against "Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent." Leites was breaking that rule toward the end of the fight Saturday night, and Lavigne shouldn't have stoood by passively.

Ground game: Amazingly, Soszynski has now won three consecutive pro MMA fights by submission, using a kimura for all three victories. You think his next opponent will be preparing for that?

Stock up: Cheick Kongo looked very good against Antoni Hardonk and has now won three straight in the UFC, all by TKO. He's climbing the heavyweight ladder.

Stock down: Vinny Magalhaes, last season's Ultimate Fighter finalist, was defeated by TUF housemate Eliot Marshall on the non-televised undercard. Frank Mir once told me that Magalhaes has the best Braziliani jiu jitsu in the UFC's light heavyweight division, but the truth is that's not enough: This is MMA, not sport jiu jitsu, and Magalhaes now has a 2-4 professional MMA record. That's not good enough to fight in the UFC.

Fight I want to see next:
Cheick Kongo vs. Shane Carwin. I'd love to see Kongo vs. Carwin some time this summer, with the winner perhaps getting a shot at Brock Lesnar or Frank Mir for the heavyweight belt. I can guarantee, you put Kongo or Carwin in the cage with Lesnar or Mir, and no one will complain the next day that the previous night's title fight was boring.

UFC 97 Photos

    Chuck Liddell and Shogun Rua shake hands before their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Chuck Liddell, right, punches Shogun Rua during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Chuck Liddell, right, punches Shogun Rua during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Chuck Liddell, left, punches Shogun Rua during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Shogun Rua, right, attempts to punch Chuck Liddell during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Shogun Rua takes down Chuck Liddell during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Chuck Liddell and Shogun Rua battle during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Chuck Liddell and Shogun Rua battle during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Shogun Rua pounds Chuck Liddell during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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    Shogun Rua pounds Chuck Liddell during their match at UFC 97 on Saturday, April 19, 2008 in Montreal, Canada.

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