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Can Shogun Rua Be a UFC Champ Without Stomps and Soccer Kicks?

Look at the career record of Shogun Rua, and you'll notice something unusual: Of his 18 victories, two are listed as TKO-stomps, and three are listed as TKO-soccer kicks. That's unusual, of course, because stomps and soccer kicks are illegal in the UFC and other American promotions. Shogun became one of the best and most exciting fighters in the world in Pride, where stomps and soccer kicks were allowed, but as he prepares to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 104, I've had a few fans ask me: Can Shogun become a champion under American rules?

Shogun's reliance upon stomps and soccer kicks was actually greater than you might think from hearing that he used them to finish five of his 18 victories: In other fights, such as his 2005 victory over Alistair Overeem, stomps and soccer kicks were an integral part of how he took control of the bout, even if they weren't the way he finished it. Stomps and soccer kicks were, quite simply, Shogun's best weapons, and he's now fighting under rules that take his best weapons from him.

And yet I believe Shogun is a good enough all-around martial artist that he's capable of becoming a UFC champion even if he can't use his favorite methods to win fights. I say that in part because Shogun has already won five fights under the American unified rules of MMA (including a rematch with Overeem in Pride's 2007 Las Vegas show, as well as fights with Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell this year), but mostly because I think Shogun has evolved as a fighter since his days in Japan.

That evolution hasn't necessarily made Shogun a better fighter; I don't think he's as explosive as he was prior to his knee problems of 2007 and 2008. But I think over the last few years Shogun has learned to rely more on his hands than on his feet, and I think he's better on the ground than he used to be. Even if Shogun returned to a promotion where stomps and soccer kicks were legal, I don't think he'd use them as much as he did in Pride.

I'm picking Machida to beat Shogun, just as I'd pick Machida to beat anyone at 205 pounds. But I'm excited to see what Shogun looks like next Saturday. I think he's going to look like an exciting, well-rounded fighter, even though the absence of stomps and soccer kicks will mean he won't be the Shogun of old.

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