UFC Fight Night 33 Preview: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. James Te Huna

UFC Fight Night 33 in Brisbane, Australia welcomes back MMA legend Shogun Rua in the co-main event, pitting him against Australian native James Te Huna. Rua is coming off of a quick guillotine submission loss to Chael Sonnen, and he will look to right the ship against Te Huna, who coincidentally is coming off of a guillotine loss himself to Glover Teixeira.

Fighter Summary

James Te Huna (16-6 overall, 5-2 UFC)

Strengths: Strength and power, KO power

Weaknesses: Submission defense

Mauricio Rua (21-8 overall, 5-6 UFC)

Strengths: Wrecking ball hands, toughness

Weaknesses: Wear and tear

Fight Breakdown – Shogun Rua is going to have one goal: pummel Te Huna into oblivion. If he has it his way, this fight will take place entirely in the stand up with Te Huna obliging him and staying within striking range. Of course, few people are willing and capable enough to simply stand and trade with Rua and Te Huna probably won’t, so Rua will do whatever he can to try and keep this one standing. That means Rua will have to fend off any takedown attempts and get back to his feet, so he can pursue and put his opponent in the path of his dangerous hands. He’s a slugger and will look to land against Te Huna until he has him shaken and if there’s one thing you can bet on, it’s that if Rua smells blood and has his opponent hurt, he’s going to finish the fight.

It would be very surprising to see Rua initiating takedowns or looking to roll with Te Huna on the ground. Of course, if Te Huna manages to outclass Rua on the feet with consistency, that’s another story. But unless Rua is pushed in that direction, the gameplan for him is to punch Te Huna in the face and throw some big body/leg kicks to set up some power shots. Rua is a very capable submission fighter, but let’s be realistic. Out of Shogun’s 21 wins, 18 have come by KO/TKO. We know what he will try and do.

So really, it’s going to be up to Te Huna to see how he deals with Rua’s tactics. The key to defeating Shogun is to either out-strike him (Jones, Gustafsson) or take away his striking by keeping him locked up against the cage or on his back (Sonnen). Te Huna is capable of doing both, but the safer route would be to take Shogun down and keep him there. Shogun has had issues getting off of his back against strong wrestlers and top control guys, so Te Huna could do a lot to win this fight by getting Rua down and utilizing some nasty ground and pound. Rua has excellent takedown defense though and Te Huna won’t have the reach advantage that Jones and Gustafsson did. He has to explode in and catch Rua off balance in order to do some work in the clinch and avoid Rua’s inevitable barrages.

A lot of this fight could very well be decided in the clinch. That’s something Te Huna has to watch out for because Rua has some vicious knees and elbows. Rua could easily keep Te Huna locked up against the cage, and if that happens Te Huna has to escape and break without taking any big shots. Te Huna could find a lot of success with leg kicks, as Rua doesn’t do the best job of checking them. Rua is the type of guy to dodge at times and just absorb shots at others in order to maintain his pursuit. Te Huna has to throw leg kicks with authority and that will take some of the steam off of Rua’s brutal strikes. Te Huna has to be ready for a violet brawl because Rua is willing to take some damage to dish out more.

Key to Victory: Can Te Huna fight smart and avoid a brawl with Shogun?

Shogun is a wrecking ball just waiting to make contact. Gustafsson and Jones had the reach and smarts to stay away from a close striking exchange and Sonnen immediately went for a submission attempt. Te Huna has to follow their model and stay the hell away from getting into wild exchanges with Shogun in the pocket. Rua can take a punch or two and will likely get the better of any brawling.

Te Huna has the goods to win this fight. But getting into a punching contest is not the way to go about it. He needs to be equal parts Lyoto Machida and Chael Sonnen. He has to avoid and dodge the haymakers that Shogun throws, and counter with crisp and accurate strikes that are perfectly timed. Then he has to keep Shogun off balance and earn the occasional takedown. If he can be brilliant like that for three rounds, he’s got a strong chance of winning. If he can’t avoid Shogun’s devastating attacks, it’s going to be a short night.

Why It Matters – Shogun Rua’s best days may be behind him. He is still clearly capable of finishing guys at any moment, but he’s also just as likely to face someone who has both figured out how to beat him, and is talented enough to do so convincingly. There was a time when a guy like Te Huna would have absolutely no chance against Rua, but against today’s Shogun the odds are much more even. His generation of fighters is inevitably fading into the background to make room for the best fighters today. Guys like Anthony Pettis and Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez. They are at the top of the MMA world, while noted fighters, hall of famers and straight up legends like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson and so on, are either already retired or on their way to retirement. Rua is only 32 so it seems a bit premature to say that, but the guy has been fighting forever and went through the glory days of Pride, which were completely butchery at times.

Shogun lost convincingly to Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Then he got caught by Chael Sonnen. He needs this win badly to stay relevant, or else he’s looking at the first three fight losing skid of his career (much like his peer Dan Henderson). That doesn’t bode well for someone like Rua, who again, isn’t exactly over the hill in terms of his fighting age.

Te Huna was on a nice roll before he fell to Teixeira and he was well on his way up the ladder in the LHW division, disposing of guys like Joey Beltran and Ryan Jimmo. Teixeira was a big test for him and he would have opened some eyes with a win, but he fell quickly in the first round. Rua is still a huge name and still one of the biggest tests of Te Huna’s career, and he could jump right back to where he was with a good win over Rua. Beating Shogun is something that only the best guys can do, and Te Huna would be included among guys like Jones, Gustafsson and Sonnen. Not a bad list. But that’s easier said than done and he’ll have to bring his A-game. Fighting in your own country helps and it’s definitely going to give a boost to Te Huna, as the fans in Australia have proven to be huge MMA fans and ultra supportive of their native sons and daughters. But he’s going to be facing a determined and hungry Rua, possibly the sharpest version we’ve ever seen, and he’ll be desperate to avoid his third loss in a row. That will be too much for Te Huna to overcome.

Prediction – Rua

 

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