Mauricio “Shogun” Rua has not recorded back-to-back wins since 2009. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Mauricio Rua (21-6, 5-4 UFC) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (14-1, 6-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Gustafsson remains a prospect that could eventually challenge 205-pound champion Jon Jones, but the talented Swede’s resume still needs polishing before he receives that opportunity. Gustafsson performed well in his first main event gig, as he used lateral movement and boxing to limit the aggression of noted finisher Thiago Silva. However, Silva’s follow-up effort was an uninspiring submission of Stanislav Nedkov at UFC on Fuel TV 6, establishing the Brazilian as little more than a dangerous gatekeeper at light heavyweight.
Rua, a decorated veteran with UFC and Pride Fighting Championships titles to his credit, is a proven commodity against top competition. His UFC on Fox 4 triumph over Brandon Vera was far from picture perfect, but “Shogun” managed to survive his cardio issues to score a fourth-round technical knockout. The former Chute Boxe representative tends to expend energy quickly, but he has shown the ability to battle through adversity even when thoroughly fatigued; witness his five-round war with Dan Henderson at UFC 139.
Like anyone with a Chute Boxe affiliation, Rua has his moments of breathtaking aggression. Recently, however, he has taken to using his muay Thai to close distance and force takedowns and clinches. This was the strategy against Vera, who was much more comfortable striking on the outside. It could also prove beneficial against the rangy boxing of the 6-foot-5 Gustafsson. “The Mauler” understands timing, movement and angles well, and he will land a variety of jabs, uppercuts and crosses when given the opportunity. He has also displayed above-average takedown defense when necessary, though not against someone with as varied an arsenal as Rua.
Gustafsson will only enjoy a half-inch reach advantage against his Brazilian adversary, so his lateral movement will be more important than ever, especially because Rua is at his most effective when landing rapid-fire punches and knees in close quarters.
Both fighters possess plenty of pop, but if “Shogun” begins to gas in the later stages of the bout, it will be Gustafsson who will have the better chance of teeing off. A tired Rua will also be vulnerable on the mat, as Gustaffson is good in scrambles and could conceivably secure a submission should his opponent get sloppy.
The Pick: Rua needs to utilize leg and body kicks to minimize distance before looking to take the fight to the ground. As explosive as he once was, he will not win a prolonged standup battle with Gustaffson. However, the Swede will prove well-rounded enough to counter Rua’s attacks wherever they come from to earn a hard-fought decision.
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