When Mauricio “Shogun” Rua steps into the Octagon on Saturday night, he’ll be fighting for his future as a contender in one of the UFC’s most talent-rich divisions.

The former Pride superstar will take on top prospect Alexander Gustafsson in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 5 this weekend, and due to his lackluster record since his UFC 128 title defense against Jon Jones, Shogun’s status as a potential threat to win his belt back will likely be on the line.

Since losing his title to Jones back in March of 2011, Shogun exchanged wins and losses over his next three fights, sandwiching a “Fight of the Year”-worthy loss to Dan Henderson between stoppage wins over Forrest Griffin and Brandon Vera.

Obviously, Rua hasn’t looked bad in his last couple of performances, but the former champion took much more damage than he’s accustomed to in his bouts with Henderson and Vera.

It’s the win over Vera that is most concerning when looking at Shogun’s chances in his next fight. Despite the fourth-round TKO victory, Rua looked sluggish at times against a fighter the vast majority of the MMA community expected him to run through, and he ended up taking a lot of punishment before he pulled off the win.

That same kind of performance isn’t going to cut it against a young and talented fighter like Gustafsson, and that could mean terrible things for Shogun’s future in the UFC.

No matter what happens on Saturday night, Shogun is still going to be considered one of the top light heavyweights in the world, and if he steps into the cage with any fighter other than Jon Jones, he’s guaranteed to at least be competitive. But a loss to Gustafsson will push Shogun completely out of title contention and could throw him into the loop of aging stars like Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin that keep getting marquee fights but don’t get mentioned in title discussions.

Just looking at his resume over the last few years, the case can be made that Shogun hasn’t earned a win over a top-tier opponent since he took the title from Lyoto Machida back at UFC 113.

Griffin and Vera are both tough fighters, but they haven’t exactly been the most impressive fighters at 205 over the last few years. And no matter how great Rua’s performance against Henderson was, he still left the cage that night with a loss on his record. With just a 5-4 record inside the Octagon, it’s not hard to believe that a loss this weekend will push him out of the title scene for good.

If Shogun wants to continue to compete with the best fighters in the world, it’s crucial that he pulls off a win over Gustafsson because a loss could not only place him further away from regaining his title, it could make earning a title shot a complete impossibility.

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

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.