It has been nearly nine months since Mauricio Rua’s draining, five-round epic against Dan Henderson at UFC 139. Though “Shogun” lost the bout, he gained plenty in terms of admiration from his loyal legion of supporters. It certainly will be a tough act to follow for the former UFC light heavyweight champion, as classic fights usually depend on the performances of both men in the Octagon on a given night. Brandon Vera, once dubbed as the next big thing in the promotion, is no longer burdened by such lofty expectations. Having fallen on hard times of late, “The Truth” received his main event status due to a series of withdrawals and fight card alterations.
When Rua and Vera square off in the UFC on Fox 4 main event on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a dominant performance is expected from the man who once ran through the field in the 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix. However, there is always the outside chance that Vera catches lightning in a bottle and recaptures the magic that made him such a touted prospect years ago. Such is the unpredictable nature of MMA.
The co-main event features a pair of light heavyweights -- Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader -- who have designs on moving back into title contention in the division.
Here is a closer look at UFC on Fox 4 “Shogun vs. Vera,” with analysis and picks.
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Mauricio Rua (20-6, 4-4 UFC) vs. Brandon Vera (12-5, 8-5 UFC)
The Matchup: Much of the talk surrounding Rua has centered on who he did not want to fight. “Shogun” balked when offered rising Brazilian prospect Glover Teixeira, claiming he had little to gain from fighting a lesser-known opponent. While Vera is certainly recognizable from past bouts against the likes of Frank Mir, Jon Jones and Randy Couture, Rua does not stand to gain much from beating a fighter who was released by the UFC not that long ago.
However, Rua’s stock remains high following his loss to Henderson at UFC 139. In defeat, the former light heavyweight champion showed amazing resilience, surviving several big right hands from “Hendo” before finishing with a flourish in the final two frames. Rua was not fresh by the end of that fight, but the fact that he has gone five rounds twice in the Octagon proves the Brazilian’s conditioning is better than advertised.
Vera was given his walking papers following a loss to Thiago Silva at UFC 125. That bout was declared a no contest when Silva failed a post-fight drug test, and “The Truth” returned to the promotion to earn a unanimous decision over Elliot Marshall at UFC 137. That victory was not exactly awe-inspiring, however, as the 30-year-old suffered a ligament tear in his left elbow courtesy of a Marshall armbar in the third round. These days, Vera’s most impressive attribute has been his ability to absorb punishment, and he has displayed it against the likes of Marshall, Silva and Jon Jones. The Alliance MMA product has been saying all the right things about finally fulfilling his potential, but the reality is the days of anyone predicting two-division dominance for Vera are long gone.
The biggest obstacle for Rua in this bout would seem to be overconfidence. When the former Pride standout is out of shape and unmotivated, the results can be uninspiring. Do not expect a subpar version of “Shogun,” as headlining a nationally televised card on Fox should be incentive enough for the Brazilian to be at his best.
Vera tends to wilt when faced with an all-out onslaught of violence, and that is why this matchup is tailor-made for Rua. By pressing the action from the opening minute, he will not allow Vera to employ the passive counterattacking style that he has favored of late. While Vera does have polished muay Thai skills, he will have to really open up and be willing to take risks with his striking to put Rua in danger.
In fact, Rua has answers for most everything Vera does well. Employing a leg kick-heavy strategy leaves Vera open for counters once Rua figures out his timing, and clinching will only allow the former Chute Boxe representative to punish him with knees and punches in close. Rua also has the option of taking the fight to the mat and working ground-and-pound from above, as Vera struggles to offer much resistance when planted on his back.
The Pick: At the first sign of a Rua blitz, Vera’s strategy will go out the window and he will find himself in survival mode. The Brazilian simply will not allow a conservative approach, and fast, powerful hands will spell the demise of “The Truth” in the opening round.
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