Fresh off his knockout of Rashad Evans two weeks ago, Anthony Smith will get a chance to bring down another MMA legend when he battles former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Mauricio Rua in the UFC Fight Night 134 main event on Sunday in Hamburg, Germany.
Although his best days have long since passed, “Shogun” finds himself on a three-fight winning streak -- his longest run of sustained success in more than a decade. However, the oft-injured 36-year-old Brazilian has not competed since March 2017.
The latest installment of The Film Room series puts the Rua-Smith clash under the microscope.
Smith started his MMA career at the age of 18 and oddly enough has more professional fights than Rua despite starting six years later. Prior to his current UFC run, he spent much of his time jumping from promotion to promotion and has made stops in Bellator MMA, Strikeforce, Cage Fury Fighting Championships and the Resurrection Fighting Alliance. Smith has proven himself a potent finisher, having delivered 26 of his 29 wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
Smith has an opportunity to defeat and possibly retire two of the greatest light heavyweights of all-time in less than a month. Against Evans, he grabbed an underhook and controlled “The Ultimate Fighter 2” winner’s head with his forearm to improve the accuracy of his fight-ending knee strike.
While Smith has become known for his aggression, he often spends the early rounds pacing himself and only blitzing forward in short bursts. Once the fight hits the later rounds, he will chaotically look to finish, even if it means putting himself in bad positions. Smith often looks sloppy during these flurries, but his opponents are usually too fatigued or flustered to capitalize.
Smith can slowly pick apart opponents at distance with his long, rangy punches. He almost always has a height and reach advantage but rarely uses it. Against Elvis Mutapcic, he seemed to abandon his aggressive rushes and used long punches to put on the best performance of his career. If Smith could find a happy medium between striking at range and blitzing forward with combinations, he could become a more serious threat in a division desperate for new stars.
Later in his December 2016 encounter with Mutapcic, Smith snatched a single-collar tie and landed a beautiful elbow over the top of the World Series of Fighting veteran’s outstretched lead hand.
The Return of ‘Shogun’
If someone had said five years ago that Rua would still be a Top 10 light heavyweight in the UFC in 2018, the MMA community might have let out a collective belly laugh. Yet “Shogun” will enter the cage against Smith ranked No. 8 and in the midst of his best run since his Pride Fighting Championships heyday.
An old-school Chute Boxe fighter, Rua continues to work with the famed gym’s former trainer, Rafael Cordeiro. The team paired unparalleled violence in the standup department with elite jiu-jitsu and helped shape the sport’s history. The Chute Boxe style is simple: It calls for aggression, striking in the pocket and hunting the Thai clinch, a position from which fighters can fire off knees to the body and head. Despite other differences, all current and former Cordeiro students adopt the same in-your-face style and a willingness to eat punches to deliver one of their own.
The double-collar tie was rarely used for striking in MMA before Chute Boxe burst onto the scene and produced some of the best knockouts of all-time. Quinton Jackson was on the receiving end more than once.
Despite being known for his ferocity, “Shogun” slowed his pace in the UFC and made a successful transition as a result. Rua struck the right mix between his patented bull rush and patient striking from the outside. This dynamic was at play in his rematch with rival Mark Coleman at UFC 93.
“Shogun” possesses a sneaky counter right hand and has caught a number of opponents off-guard with it. He connected with multiple counter overhand rights in his loss to Alexander Gustafsson and captured the UFC light heavyweight title with a counter right straight on Lyoto Machida.