Mauricio Rua (21-7, 5-5 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-13-1, 6-6 UFC)
After being teased of this fight being a late addition to June’s UFC 161 card, Rua and Sonnen will now sqaure off in the main event of the debut event on FOX Sports 1. Rua enters the fight looking to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to Alexander Gustafsson at UFC On FOX 5 in December. Rua is just 2-3 over his last five fights. Sonnen is looking to bounce back from two straight losses, though they came in title fights against Anderson Silva and, most recently, Jon Jones at UFC 159 in April. Like Rua, Sonnen is just 2-3 over his last five fights as he heads into yet another main event.
Fight Breakdown- Rua has been involved in some of the greatest fights in UFC history, including a memorable loss to Dan Henderson in 2011’s “Fight Of The Year”, and an exciting win over Brandon Vera last August, which marks the last win that Rua has on his record. Rua also had a pair of fights against Lyoto Machida for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and he became the first man to defeat Machida when he took the title from him in May 2010. Rua never was able to successfully defend the title as he lost it to Jon Jones in March 2011, and while he has split his four fights since then, he always seems to be just two wins away from getting a chance to regain the title. A win over Sonnen would put him back in that direction, and Rua has dedicated himself to making the appropriate changes to get him back to that title fight.
Sonnen has become one of the most popular fighters in the sport today due to his brash personality, but he has all the tools to back it up inside the Octagon. Sonnen gets a lot of flack due to his three title shots over the recent years, and while the fight against Jones may have not been warranted on the strength of performance, it made for well-purchased fight card that saw Sonnen literally seconds away from an improbable victory. Sonnen looks to rebound and get himself back into the title mix, and he is talking about dropping back down to the middleweight division following this fight. If you were to take out the four title losses Sonnen has since 2007 in both the UFC and WEC, Sonnen is 12-1, so the justification for him fighting for titles is there. An impressive win over Rua would move Sonnen possibly one fight away from yet again fighting for the championship gold he has long been after. Sonnen has also switched training camps prior to this fight as he is now working from the Reign Training Center under UFC middleweight Mark Munoz.
Rua has long been one of the most dangerous strikers in the sport. He has muay Thai skills that are among the very best of any fighter that has competed in the sport, and his power in his hands, feet and knees are well known. Of his 21 professional wins, 18 of them have come by knockout, and he has knocked out the likes of Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem and Quinton Jackson over his illustrious career. Rua has been looking to improve his boxing, and he moved to work with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach. He has power hooks and damaging knees, but he may find trouble in actually hitting Sonnen. Sonnen has solid striking defense, and he is very difficult to hit. Sonnen is really good at finding the timing of his opponents’ strikes and countering them with a takedown. Even Anderson Silva had trouble against Sonnen, and if it weren’t for two costly mistakes, Sonnen may have been the man to dethrone Silva.
Rua may look to get away from using his leg kicks as Sonnen could use those to turn the fight into a takedown clinic. If Sonnen gets a grasp of Rua, Rua should look to pound with knees in the clinch. Sonnen is not a threat to knock Rua out on the feet, as Rua took some of the hardest punches you can take from Dan Henderson and survived. He will need to be affective in his spots on the feet, and Sonnen will press the action forward as he looks to set up his takedowns. Rua can take opponents down to the mat, but he tends to do so from a clinch position, and Sonnen should be much stronger in that position with his wrestling ability. Rua can be taken down to the mat, and Sonnen’s ability to apply that pressure and time his takedowns will be enough to plant Rua down. Sonnen also is a smart fighter, and he knows that going to a clinch battle with Rua would be ill-advised as Rua will load up with his brutal knees. Sonnen will be looking to shoot from a distance, and that is where Rua should expect the attempts to come from, and where he should be ready to counter with kicking attacks.
Despite not having much in the name of submission wins to back up his skill, Rua is an excellent ground fighter with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He loves to strike and uses his ground game as a great backup plan if he finds himself in trouble. He tends to go for leg locks from the bottom that generally allow the action to get back to the feet, but he will throw up some triangle choke attempts from the bottom as well. Sonnen likes to work from the top and has a smothering ground attack. He will attack with millions of punches and he doesn’t allow opponents to create space to attack from the bottom. Sonnen does have a weakness in defending submissions, but he has been working to get better at that. And while Sonnen throws a lot of punches from the top, he is always looking to improve and change position, and that helps keep a fight from being stood up by referees. He may not finish with heavy punches, but the flurry of punches he brings from top wears down his foes very effectively.
Both men are accustomed to fighting in five-round fights as both have a history of title fights and general main events. Going 25 minutes will be a huge advantage for Sonnen. Rua has a history of getting tired quickly in fights, and while he can make it 25 minutes, he is drained after around 15. Sonnen, meanwhile, has gone 25 minutes without much in the way of being tired, and the one time he did show fatigue against Michael Bisping, it was due to a huge weight cut and a fight-week illness. Rua was also preparing for a fight in June before it was cancelled just two weeks prior, and with jumping right back into a training camp, it is possible that Rua could be overtrained due to trying to peak twice over a two-month period. Sonnen should know Rua will get tired, and his gameplan should be to wear him down with pressure and takedowns and take the fight the distance. Rua has to attack with his striking and force Sonnen to make mistakes. This is a high-level main event and should provide some fireworks, and as the betting lines show, it is a close fight. Rua’s conditioning problems and possibility of being overtrained push the fight slightly in Sonnen’s favor.
Why It Matters- Rua wants to get that UFC Light Heavyweight Championship back, and with rotating wins-and-losses over his last eight fights, that won’t be enough to get him back into that title fight. He needs to put together a win streak, and a streak of two or three wins could be just enough to get him that title shot. A win for Rua over Sonnen would be the start of his attempt to get back into that title fight, and Rua needs this win if he is gonna get past the status of gatekeeper in the 205-pound division.
Sonnen has made his future plans clear- he intends to drop back down to the middleweight division and wants to fight Wanderlei Silva or Vitor Belfort. With Chris Weidman having defeated Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight Championship, the door has been re-opened for Sonnen to challenge for the championship once again should Weidman defeat Silva in the rematch. However, for Sonnen to get back to that title fight, he needs to start putting together some wins. A win over a fighter the caliber of Rua would show that Sonnen still has what it takes to compete at the highest level and give him motivation to get back to the top.