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UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum – Mauricio Rua vs Gian Villante Toe to Toe Preview

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UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Gastelum   Mauricio Rua vs Gian Villante Toe to Toe Preview

Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Rua vs. Gian at UFN 106 and everything you don’t about football-to-MMA success.

Mauricio Rua and Gian Villante try to prove they’re not just light heavyweight placeholders this March 11, 2017 at the Centro de Formação Olímpica do Nordeste in Fortaleza, Brazil.

One sentence summary

David: Why?

Phil: The timeless battle of age vs inconsistency.

Stats

Record: Mauricio Rua 24-10 Gian Villante 15-7

Odds: Mauricio Rua -145 Gian Villante +125

History / Introduction to Both Fighters

David: Rua has managed to stay relevant after what should have been career altering knee injuries. Now that I think about it, there’s actually nothing false about that statement. It’s just, I can’t decide if he’s that Dan Kelly feel good story of the week, or if he’s part of the seedy MMA narrative of the UFC giving fighters bouts who are strolling around past their expiration date like Romero symbols. Yea he’s won his last two, but does this really give us hope for the endgame?

Phil: It seems weird that Shogun is still here. More than that it seems weird that he’s still here and in odd ways doing about as well as he ever has? I mean, there was that brief period of about two fights (Chuck and Machida I) where he looked like he’d recovered some of his old speed and explosion, but since then I just have no idea what’s going on. There hasn’t been any kind of consistent decline, as he can look better and worse from fight to fight (presumably depending on whether he’s bothered to train or not) but there is an overall downwards trend. That said, Shogun’s decline has been outpaced by the decline of the division as a whole in recent years. Yay?

David: Give me a second. I need to go back to wikipedia to make sure I have Gian’s history correct. Oh right. I forgot he got laid the fuck out by Tom Lawlor. I don’t mean to sound spitefully dismissive. But Villante comes from a long storied history of ex-football players who are pretty good fighters for a stick and ball yeoman. As such, their success mostly wanes, rarely waxes.

Phil: When it comes to good natural athletes, there’s a default expectation that at some point they’ll turn some kind of corner. Somehow it’ll all come together- they’ll stop making that one mistake, or they’ll find some way of shielding themselves from making the mistakes in the first place. Villante is relatively unique, in that fairly on people shrugged their shoulders and said: nah. Don’t think so. Fun action fighter, but nah.

What’s at stake?

David: Just the usual – a few stacks of underpaid high society compliments of the chef-baldardee. Shogun will at least be good for a high profile fight if he wins. Villante? Depends. If he punches Shogun through the chain linked fence and becomes an ESPN highlight, maybe then we talk real money.

Phil: So dismissive, my friend. This is Shogun’s chance to notch his biggest win streak ever in the UFC, at three whole fights. More than that, there’s nowhere for him to go apart from into the top 5 off a win.

That said, I desperately hope he doesn’t go there. Like, what if Jones needs a return opponent? I shudder to think. Win or lose, someone suggested Shogun-Anderson at light heavyweight, and that’s basically the only thing I want to see from either man right now.

Where do they want it?

David: Shogun has never really bothered to expand beyond the boundaries of his muay thai base. Which is quite alright. He’s still a hell of a pugilist. And he still has supernatural timing with his punches. In that way he’s a bit like Dan Henderson; tactically he should be a disaster, but his timing, experience, and raw power keep the loyal opposition from being as effective as you’d otherwise suspect. Perhaps the biggest change in Shogun’s game, and it’s not big so much as vital, at least from what I’ve gathered, is that he’s a little more active defensively. It’s not just the classic earmuff retreat he likes to use when being boxed, but his movement. He makes better use of angles, and thus doesn’t get punished as readily. After all these years, he’s still a master technician on the ground. With his arsenal of trip takedowns and torso manipulation, he’s heavy on top with punches, slap chops, and a veritable grocery list of five knuckle meat tenderizing.

Phil: Shogun seems to have adapted to the fact that he’s no longer going to be zipping around people and flying stomping them into oblivion with the exuberant abandon of his 23-year old self. The Henderson comparison is an apt one, because the new Shogun is normally (but not always) a plodding power puncher. His leg kicks disappeared from his game for a while, but in the Nogueira rematch it looked like he started trusting his knees enough to be able to throw them again, albeit in a much lighter form than the clubbing femur-crushers he used to throw back in the day. These days they’re there to set up his counterpunch game, which has absorbed all the commitment the leg kicks used to have and then some: Shogun lives and breathes off winging but relatively accurate overhands and hooks. Like Henderson, these feed into the clinch, where Shogun works for underhooks and dumps. His takedown defense, as evinced in the Anderson fight, is also much better. Essentially, this is all evidence of a fighter who used to be tuned for speed, and has been forced to switch to a power game.

David: Gian is basically white OSP, for all intents and purposes. A comparison that extends beyond their football backgrounds when you consider that when they fought each other, it ended in this Timecop-esque scenario where the same matter couldn’t occupy the same space and a technical decision was handed gracelessly to St. Preux. As such, the comparison carries with it all of the pros and cons of OSP. Villante is more of a linear fighter. Very traditional, and were he more committed, would possess the premiere leg kicks in the division. They’re very good, but also very inconsistent. He’s not unskilled or anything, and packs quite the punch. But as we saw against Lawlor, he’s a headhunter, and can become ‘overexuberant’, if you will.

Phil: Instead of OSP’s decent instincts but utter lack of hierarchical assemblage, Villante has become a fairly sound kickboxer who is nonetheless completely incapable of keeping his eye on the ball. Which is ironic considering the whole football thing.

Every part of his game can be described as functional. He’s has decent takedown defense, but leaves his head resolutely on the center line. While he’s good at knocking opponents off balance with the inside leg kick and cracking them with the cross, Villante’s ability to successfully integrate his defense and offense has traditionally been somewhat… not there?

Insight from Past Fights

David: Even though Shogun is nothing like Latifi stylistically, Villante fell prey to the kind of offensive tactics Shogun can duplicate. The work inside the clinch, his opponent dictating range too easily and sending heat seeking missiles at his dome as a result. Even at half speed, I don’t like Gian in this bout. I’m starting to wonder why it was set up at all.

Phil: The primary thing I took away from the Villante fight was that Villante was slow enough that he couldn’t outfight against Latifi, who (much as I love him) is one of the most footslow fighters in the UFC.

On another note, the Lawler-Villante fight is one of the weirdest viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Villante was absolutely kicking the shit out of Lawler, and I was suddenly overcome by this really strong conviction: Lawler is going to knock him out. Any second now, this grinding clinch grappler with limited striking who is obviously on the ropes is going to absolutely clean his clock with a left hook. And then he did. Weird (Editor’s Note: now that I’ve learned to spell English with a capital E, I’ve learned to keep Phil’s grammatical errors intact, as I enjoy this parallel universe Phil has created in which it was Robbie, and not Tom, who decapitated Villante).

X-Factors

David: Shogun’s health? He seems fine and maybe I’m just falling into that sports talk trap of having nothing original to say, so I invent original nonsense to compensate. I haven’t followed enough of the pre-fight festivities to tease out any unusual factors that could come into play. Although Villante did say he wanted to “party”. Not for nothing, but we do remember what happened to the last guy to use the word ‘party’ carelessly as a euphemism for fighting, right? (technically said by Arnold, but why haggle over details?)

Phil: While this bout lacks the raging homoeroticism of Commando, it should at least provide a similar brand of wheezy, muscular, old-fashioned fun for as long as it lasts. The X-factors are pretty defined: Shogun’s at that point where he can suddenly look a lot worse, and Villante has (for all that we’ve been a bit down on him) been slowly tightening up over his last few fights. The question is obviously around what point those trajectories intersect.

Prognostication

David: Villante has some skill. And more important for a not-quite-heavyweight division, he has some power. But nothing about his history of skills lead me to believe he can beat Shogun. Even WITH Shogun missing his kneecaps. Rua is still too savvy, hard hitting, and offensively technical after all these years. Mauricio Rua by TKO, round 2.

Phil: If Villante’s analogue is OSP, then that doesn’t say particularly good things for Shogun’s chances. A younger, bigger, faster opponent will probably be able to destroy the aging ex-champ if they match strength in any direct way. However, Shogun has still been able to summon up craft and dynamism of late, and Villante has so consistently been vulnerable to whatever offense his opponent throws his way. Shogun Rua by TKO, round 1.


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