Pros Picks: Liddell vs. Rua

By Mike Sloan Apr 16, 2009
A few years back, a showdown between Chuck Liddell and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would have been a fight fan’s dream matchup. Liddell was the defending UFC light heavyweight champion and at the top of his game while laying out opponents like kitchen tile. Rua was on a meteoric rise through Pride Fighting Championships’ ranks, rivaling Liddell’s fistic floor masonry in Japan. Before Zuffa bought out Pride, it seemed like a full-scale tilt between these two explosive knockout artists would never materialize.

Thankfully the fight will finally come to fruition this Saturday at UFC 97 in Montreal, but like Liddell’s stellar conquest of Rua’s former Chute Boxe teammate Wanderlei Silva, the matchup is being purchased off the shelf a few years after its expiration date. Looking at his most recent bouts, Liddell’s age appears to be catching up to him and the 39-year-old icon just might be a bit past his fighting prime.

Rua, 27, has had a rocky transition to the cage, where his stamina has been harshly tested. Once feared for his heavy, looping punches, Liddell has been knocked out at the hands of Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans in the last two years. Rua was soundly beaten by Forrest Griffin and nearly suffocated in a near hilarious, though triumphant, scuffle with fighting fossil Mark Coleman.

Luckily for the fans though, Liddell-Rua should still be an all-out war, a skirmish that could wind up being a “fight of the year” candidate when all is said and done. Will Liddell’s experience and hunger to recapture his title, along with a new striking coach, earn him another highlight-reel knockout? Will Rua have made the necessary adjustments to avoid exahaustion and finally get on the tear that UFC fans expected from him from the start?

Many professional trainers and fighters think they have the answer to those questions. recently polled dozens of the pros in an attempt to get a read on the pulse of the MMA elite. Some were a little hesitant to comment on the fight, but the brave ones put their names and reputations on the line and boldly picked a winner.

Nate Marquardt: I think Liddell by TKO at the end of round two or in round three. He will hit harder, [has a] longer reach, better wrestling and better cardio.

Luigi Fioravanti: Liddell by KO. I like Chuck and he’s been working with Howard Davis Jr., so I think working with Howard will only improve his standup.

Vladimir Matyushenko: If Liddell uses his old school skill, like his kickboxing, it would actually be a great battle. I would love to see how he handles the ground game, though. No prediction [from me].

Cub Swanson: I think Chuck will both tighten and mix his game up. Shogun has looked a little flat lately and Chuck will capitalize on that.

Ron Frazier: This is an interesting fight. Maybe the battle of what’s left in the tank, [which is] a little odd since Shogun is still young, but has not looked good in the last three years. [He] was beat down by Forrest Griffin, then pushed to the limits by Mark Coleman. Maybe the psyche is not what it used to be? Once gone, it’s a hard thing to get back. On the other hand, “The Iceman” has lost three of his last four fights, with two devastating KO losses. [Chuck was] once known as having a sturdy chin; is it still? Thus my reasoning for vacillating… I want to see Shogun rise again, but he has not given me anything to hang my hat on lately. So I pick Chuck. Why? Because power is the last thing to go and I like the fact that he is working with Howard Davis Jr.

Duke Roufus: Chuck is going to knock out Shogun. Shogun’s style is made for Chuck.

Scott Doctor/Splash News

Chuck Liddell will be all
smiles come Saturday night.
Din Thomas: I’m definitely going with Chuck in this one. Chuck has always had the ability to simplify a fight and make a guy fight his fight. But in the past his defense has suffered and he paid for it. I’m sure that he has been tightening up in those areas and [we] will see the Chuck of old emerge. And afterwards, every redneck in America will be back in the barber shop getting their Mohawks tightened up.

Mike Whitehead: Chuck by second round KO.

Stephane Vigneault: I am a huge fan of Shogun since his debut in Pride. I see Shogun being more explosive and have way more stamina and beating a slow Chuck Liddell, who I think [will] have to maybe retire. But Chuck is still a legend and one of the best of all time. Shogun defeats Liddell -- TKO in late round two.

James Zikic: This fight will not go to the ground, which means the better striker will win, which I believe is still Chuck Liddell. Shogun's a good kicker, but his hands aren't great. I believe a focused Chuck will catch him in that department. Second round TKO.

Patrick Cote: I’ll go with Chuck by super overhand [that will] knock the shit out of Rua.

Chase Beebe: I take Chuck all the way. I think Chuck is a beast and will always have that killer knockout power. Shogun and his brother don't look as crisp as of late regardless of how skilled and experienced they are. So I would have to take Chuck with a possible first or second round knockout.

Thomas Denny: I think this is a make or break fight for both guys. I think they are both taking this fight very serious and training their asses off. That being said, I think this is a 50-50 fight and can't pick a winner. Flip a coin.

Brad Blackburn: I think the first round should be a very exciting kickboxing match. But after the first round, if the fight hasn't ended, and Rua hasn't upped his conditioning, it's going to be all Chuck from that point on.

Shonie Carter: I agree [with Brad Blackburn].

Rob Wynne: I think Chuck Liddell will take this one pretty easily. Rua just hasn't been the same since Pride and his last fight against Coleman was just embarrassing. I was shocked by Rua's lack of stamina and conditioning. Liddell, on the other hand, always comes in shape and ready for a war. Plus Chuck has the hillbilly aura, which is pretty much unstoppable. Liddell will just wear Rua down and KO him whenever he wants.

Robin Black: There's huge pressure on both these guys. They appear to be on the downswing in their careers, but can turn it all around with a big win in Canada. So, many people are huge Shogun fans because of his striking and sheer aggressiveness. But that aggressiveness makes him a perfect opponent for Liddell. Watch for Liddell to go back to his counter-punching bread and butter and knock out Shogun in the second round to the approval of the Montreal crowd.

Tom Gavrilos: Like many people during the Pride FC days, I thought Shogun was going to be the new and improved Wanderlei. His wins over Arona and Sokoudjou were really impressive. After the ACL [injury] and the last two performances in the UFC, I just don’t think Shogun is ready for the likes of Chuck. Chuck is too experienced and his style is a perfect matchup for the aggressive looping punch style offered by most Chute Boxe members. Chuck is just as dangerous going backwards as forwards and I think Shogun is going to walk right into a straight counter. Chuck by TKO.

Jonathan Goulet: If Shogun is not in shape, like when he fought Coleman, he will get destroyed, but if he is in shape I will give Liddell a split decision.

Erin Toughill: Both are at a crossroads in their career. Both were unbeatable forces at one time, but in my opinion the toe-to-toe fights have caught up with them. At any rate, I see Liddell winning this one. I think they’ll just haymaker each other for three rounds (laughs), but if Liddell uses good footwork and punches and moves, he will win by decision.

Elvis Sinosic: This is a great fight. This is also a fight that many hardcore fans have been waiting for right after Liddell-Wanderlei. Both guys are known for their powerful standup. Liddell never takes the fight to the ground anymore. Shogun, on the other hand, uses whatever is at his disposal and looks for the submission as much as the KO. Both fighters have not looked their previous stellar selves in their most recent bouts. Chuck seems to have given up on his kicks and has been relying on his hands a lot more. Shogun seems to be using his versatility more with punches, kicks and knees. Shogun is a very aggressive fighter, always moving forward. But with all that versatility he still lacks in his boxing and his cardio has been suspect of late. Chuck is a counter-striker always looking for the opening to counter. But a lot of the top guys have worked out what he does and seem to be countering him effectively as of late. On paper, it appears that Shogun is tailor-made for Chuck, as he will move forward and Chuck will use his footwork and reach to counter Shogun, picking his shots, looking for the opening to put him away. The question is can Shogun's versatility overcome Chuck’s single-minded overhand right or looping left hook? I would expect Shogun to mix up his attacks, using his kicks to keep distance until he can mix it up with knees and takedowns in the clinch. I expect Chuck to keep Shogun at range, working his punches to frustrate Shogun until he forces him to make a mistake. Can Shogun take Chuck down? Can Shogun get the clinch? Can Chuck keep Shogun off him and not get frustrated with Shogun’s array of attacks? Both guys have the ability to end the match at any time. Based on common opponents [Rampage], you would expect Shogun to win -- both have stopped Overeem in the same fashion. Based on recent performances, Chuck has looked better. If Chuck doesn't change his gameplan, I would expect Shogun to win a decision. Though either guy could stop the other, I'm not expecting that to happen. Chuck needs to mix things up again and get his kicks happening, throw in takedowns to mix it up and keep his opponents on their toes. Shogun needs to ensure that he's fit for this one. He won't get away with a less than stellar preparation. He needs to keep Chuck on his toes by mixing it up for the whole match. My prediction is Shogun by decision.

Anonymous, er, Scott Bieri: I must remain vigilant and choose my words carefully when offering, “A statement on Liddell vs. Shogun.” That being said, a refreshed Iceman is gonna put some heavy leather on Shogun en route to a decisive win.

Pros who picked Liddell: 18
Pros who picked Rua: 2
Pros who couldn’t pick a winner: 2
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