The UFC’s final venture on Fox in 2012 is the promotion’s most star-studded network television event to date. In addition to the lightweight title bout between champion Benson Henderson and challenger Nate Diaz, the card also features former champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and B.J. Penn. While many may feel the title tilt is the most intriguing bout on the card, this week we’ll look at Rua’s clash with rising Swede Alexander Gustafsson.

Rua has already established himself as a legend of sport. The former Pride middleweight and UFC light heavyweight champion has been to war with nearly every big-name fighter at 205 pounds. Now the Brazilian hopes to convince the UFC to give him a second crack at champion Jon Jones by derailing Gustafsson’s climb through the division.

The lanky, 25-year-old Swedish fighter, Gustafsson, may very well be the future of the light heavyweight division. But if he wants to prove that, he’ll need to find a way to dispatch of the hard-nosed veteran. Should he come out on top and pick up his sixth straight win, it could signal a changing of the guard and would give Gustafsson a strong case for a title shot.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Rua – 10, Gustafsson – 10

Gustafsson (L) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

There’s little question as to where these two fighters like to keep a fight: standing. The pair shares 27 combined finishes on the feet in their 42 total fights.

Rua’s striking attack may not be as diverse and dangerous as it was during his time in Pride—largely due to the rule differences—but the Brazilian still has the ability to put the lights out on anyone. His aggressive nature has overwhelmed numerous fighters, including former champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Forrest Griffin. When healthy, Rua’s attack gives even the most experienced fighters fits, but it’s his willingness to absorb punishment in order to deliver that may be the difference against Gustafsson.

Without a doubt, Gustafsson’s strongest asset on the feet is his length. Between his 6-foot-5 frame and his 76.5-inch wingspan, the Swede can keep his opponents at length and use his boxing skills. That’s the exact approach he took in his last outing against another aggressive Brazilian, Thiago Silva. However, Gustafsson also has power in his hands, stopping veterans Jared Hamman, Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko. If he can employ an outside attack, his pinpoint striking could give Rua trouble.

Ground Game: Rua – 10, Gustafsson – 9

“Shogun” will look to get another title shot this Saturday (Sherdog)

The former champion does have an advantage in the submission department. Although Rua only has one submission finish—a vicious kneebar of Kevin Randleman—he does possess a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. More often than not, Shogun has used his grappling base to sweep and get back to the feet. He will look for leg locks from his back—much like he did against Dan Henderson—but prefers to release them to deliver ground-and-pound once on top.

Gustafsson has three submission wins in his career, all by rear-naked choke. Two of those wins have come during his time in the UFC, as he defeated noted strikers James Te Huna and Cyrille Diabate. However, the Alliance MMA purple belt is still raw off his back. This was exhibited against his now teammate Phil Davis in his second Octagon bout, as Gustafsson tasted defeat by anaconda choke.

Wrestling: Rua – 10, Gustafsson – 9

Gustafsson (Ryan O’Leary/Sherdog)

When you think of BJJ practitioners, or even vaunted strikers, wrestling isn’t typically their strongest weapon. But if there is one portion of Rua’s game that is vastly overlooked, it’s his takedown offense. In his bout with Henderson and in his most recent fight with Brandon Vera, the Brazilian showed relentless pressure along the fence and was able to obtain the top position against both. With his opponent’s striking base, this may be an important factor in this match-up.

The biggest advantage of Gustafsson’s move to Alliance MMA in San Diego was the ability to train regularly with the aforementioned Davis. Davis’ wrestling credentials are some of the best in the sport and that daily interaction will undoubtedly help Gustafsson develop not only takedown defense, but an offensive game as well. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to take Rua to the mat, but his work with Davis will pay dividends if he can keep the fight standing.

X-Factor

There are two key components of this fight that go far beyond the techniques possessed by these two talented light heavyweights: experience and conditioning. Rua may only be 30 years old, but the mileage on his body far exceeds his age. The Brazilian has dished out and absorbed a ton of punishment over the course of his career and his recent performances have looked less explosive. If Gustafsson can push the pace and force Rua to tire, he’ll be able to overcome the veteran.

Scorecard: Rua – 30, Gustafsson – 28

Verdict: To be honest, it’s surprising to see Gustafsson as the favorite in this fight. Yes, he’s on a five-fight winning streak, but he’s been out of action for eight months due to injury. Meanwhile, Shogun has been facing the cream of the crop for the majority of his career. Look for Rua to make a strong case for another crack at Jones with an impressive, first-round knockout of the young Swede.

Top Photo: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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