‘Shogun’ Sees Machida as Favorite at UFC 104

By Brian Knapp Oct 15, 2009
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua knows his place in the UFC 104 main event against light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida on Oct. 24 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Though he has not played it often during his career, he likes his role as the underdog.

“I think Lyoto is the favorite, and rightfully so,” Rua said during a Thursday teleconference. “It’s only right that he’s the favorite. He’s the number one fighter in the weight class and the champion. It gives me a lot of motivation to train hard and do my best, which is the goal of every fighter.”

Rua used his technical knockout victory over UFC hall of famer Chuck Liddell in April as a springboard to a title shot. The 27-year-old Brazilian, who rose to global prominence inside Pride Fighting Championships, was viewed by most as the world’s premier 205-pound fighter a few short years ago. However, a submission loss to Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut, two subsequent knee injuries and a lackluster performance against Mark Coleman left much to be desired.

“I never really got worried,” Rua said. “I believe in my potential. I know what I can do. I feel 100 percent focused. I only train, eat and sleep. I’ve tried to take each fight as a step toward my goal. Now, the time his come. It’s time for me to rise up to the occasion.”

Machida, who smashed through Rashad Evans to capture the UFC light heavyweight crown in May, respects Rua’s ability and his place as a top contender at 205 pounds.

“I’ve followed Shogun’s career for a long time,” Machida said. “Everyone knows what he’s accomplished in his career. We know each other. We respect each other. But at the end of the day, we want the same thing.”

Rua -- who won the 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix with victories against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in the span of four months -- claims to feel less pressure entering his first UFC main event.

“I expect to give my best,” Rua said. “That’s the only thing I demand of myself. I never obligate myself to win a fight.”

Other notes from the teleconference were:

• Machida will not approach the fight as a title defense. He looks at it as if he were trying to win the belt all over again. “Every time I step in the Octagon, my goal is to become a better fighter, evolve and apply the new skills I’m learning,” he said;

• Rua’s knee, which required two surgeries to repair, has been deemed 100 percent by the Brazilian. “Nowadays, it doesn’t really bother me at all,” Rua said;

• Machida considers his 2008 bout with Tito Ortiz his toughest to date, not because of what took place inside the cage but because of what went on outside it. “I felt I was brought in to beat Tito, for more than just to beat Tito, for political reasons,” he said;

• Rua claims the cage itself was the most significant hurdle he faced in transitioning from Pride to the UFC. “It’s a completely different game. It’s almost like playing in the NFL or Arena football.” He now trains with an Octagon, built to official scale, at his academy. “I feel better prepared now,” Rua said;

• Machida remains in the process of adapting to life as a UFC champion. “Things have changed a lot. I find myself being in the position every light heavyweight fighter wants to be in. There are a lot of distractions, a lot of people coming at you. My biggest worry is staying focused and zoning in on what’s important.” The unbeaten 31-year-old credits his team and family for shielding him from outside pressures;

• Rua spent his entire training camp in Curitiba, Brazil. “I trained with people who have been at my side for a long time, people who know how to push my potential to its limits. I weighed all my [training] options. I’m confident I made the right decision,” he said;

• Machida points to his decision to work with a strength and conditioning coach as the reason behind the destructive power he showed in knockout victories against Evans and Thiago Silva. “Now, I have an infrastructure behind me that allows my strikes to be a lot more effective and allows me to maximize my power,” the champion said.
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