Eight years later, Mauricio Rua could earn a shot at the belt that once belonged to him.
“Shogun” dethroned Lyoto Machida in spectacular fashion back in May of 2010 to win the UFC light heavyweight title. Now riding a three-fight winning streak, his longest ever in the Octagon, the former champion is slated to face Volkan Oezdemir, the No. 2 in the 205-pound rankings, at UFC Chile on May 19.
”I think Volkan is a great fighter, the No. 2 in the ranking, but I like challenges,” Rua told MMA Fighting. “It’s going to be a big challenge for me, and I think it’s an interesting fight for the fans.”
Oezdemir made his debut in the sport a few months after Rua had already won the UFC belt, but only really caught the attention of the MMA world in 2017. He earned a shot at 205-pound champion Daniel Cormier after going 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Ovince Saint-Preux, Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa.
The Swiss talent came up short against Cormier in January, losing via second-round TKO, but impressed the Brazilian veteran with his previous performances.
”In a short time in the UFC, he was a phenom, easily beating Manuwa and Misha, who are good fighters, and that earned him a shot at the belt,” Rua said. “He has evolved a lot since he joined the UFC. I know he’s a really tough guy.”
Oezdemir has showed many times that his hands can be lethal, and “Shogun”, a muay thai expert, knows that being versatile can be the key to earn his fourth straight victory.
”Muay thai is my background, but I fight MMA,” Rua said. “If I need to take him down to go on an easier path, I will do that. I know that Volkan has a good striking, but he also has a good wrestling, a good takedown defense, and sometimes you wear yourself out trying to take someone down. I will work hard on my muay thai, jiu-jitsu and wrestling, and I hope I can impose my strategy and come out victorious.”
Rua will do his training camp with Eduardo Alonso in Brazil, with the same crew that helped him prepare for his 2016 and 2017 victories over Corey Anderson and Gian Villante, but Kings MMA leader Rafael Cordeiro will oversee his training from far away and will be in his corner in Chile.
Entering a bout that could earn him a shot at the UFC gold, “Shogun” believes his name, history and winning streak could guarantee a title fight in 2018, especially if Cormier doesn’t return to the light heavyweight division after his historical UFC 226 clash with heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic on July 7.
”This is a tough fight, but I know that, if I win, I will be one step closer to having another chance to fight for the belt,” Rua said. “I face every fight as a dream, and defeating Volkan is my dream now. That might earn me a chance for the belt. My focus is 100 percent on him, and I know that I will be closer to the belt with a win.
”Everybody knows my career, knows that I was a champion in PRIDE and in the UFC. I’ve been fighting the world’s best fighters since 2005, so if I win this fight I will deserve to fight for the belt — for my history, being a former champion, and for fighting someone like Oezdemir, the No. 2 in the ranking.”
Competing for a UFC belt more than eight years after his UFC title win and 13 years winning the PRIDE middleweight grand prix would be a fairytale, and would certainly prove critics and doubters wrong.
“Shogun” has had a rough patch in the UFC since losing his title to Jon Jones in 2011, going 6-5 in the Octagon with stoppage defeats to Chael Sonnen, Dan Henderson and Ovince Saint-Preux. He was asked to retire, asked about a potential move to middleweight, but stuck to his convictions.
”As this sport grows, that tends to happen every time more,” Rua said. “Many people comment about it but don’t truly know about it. My friend (Fabricio) Werdum fought a tough Russian now (Alexander Volkov) and lost, and people are telling him to retire. It’s not like that.
”People still ask me to retire today. I’m on a three-fight winning streak and people say ‘why this guy hasn’t stopped yet?’ So what should the guys that I beat do? Kill themselves? If I won and have to retire, imagine what they would say to those who lost.
”People are too critical sometimes. I think many people are fans of the result, not of the human being. People have to be more rational and understand more about the sport. But that doesn’t affect me. I’m an experienced fighter.
”The sport has changed a lot since 2011 in Brazil, we have more attention and more criticism now, people saying a bunch of things. That doesn’t affect me anymore. I’m going after my dream of doing what I love, which is fighting.”
Recapturing the UFC championship in 2018 would be an incredible feat, but “Shogun” won’t allow himself to picture that image before getting the job done versus Oezdemir.
”I don’t think about that yet,” Rua said with a laugh. “If I have a chance to fight for the belt I will definitely envision that moment, but right now I can only envision my victory over Oezdemir. It would obviously be a big dream to reconquer the UFC belt.”