As a fan of mixed martial arts, never would you expect to be standing inside a cage opposite a professional fighter that you had been cheering on for years. You could probably bet that winning the lottery would come before you donned the gloves and eagerly waited the ringing of that opening bell.

For his UFC Fight Night 33 assignment, James Te Huna steps into the cage with a mixed martial arts legend that was synonymous with the Pride brand and is also a former UFC light heavyweight champion. That fighter is Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a fighter that Te Huna remembers looking up to all the while as his own career was progressing.

“I had always been a fan of Shogun and used to watch him when he was fighting in Pride,” Te Huna revealed in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “When I went over to Japan to see Mark Hunt fight, I remember seeing Shogun. And I’m a shy kinda guy, so it was pretty big for me when I ran up and asked for a photo and all that, it was like a real fan-boy moment [laughs]. Now, I get to fight him.”

In his last Octagon appearance, Te Huna came away with a first-round submission loss to Glover Teixeira. When things don’t go a fighter’s way inside the cage, it’s easy to blame external influences. Te Huna, however, knows that he has nobody to blame but himself.

“I went in there expecting something that didn’t happen,” he admitted. “I had worked myself up so much that the fight was going to be this massive brawl, but it didn’t happen. I got suckered in, and I had no excuses. I had the perfect camp and just didn’t fight the fight that I should have. That’s mixed martial arts, though; it happens.”

Not all professional fighters will get to fight on MMA’s biggest stage during their careers. There are only a finite amount of positions in the UFC, and to be there you truly have to be the best at your craft. Furthermore, for so many international fighters the chances of being able to fight for the most world-renowned mixed martial arts company on their home soil can in turn be just a pipe dream. In that regard, Te Huna is lucky. He has fought for the UFC on Australian soil three times before.

“It’s great to be fighting in Australia again. It would have been better if it was Sydney [laughs]. It’s all good though,” he explained. “Putting on events in different parts of the country will help develop the sport over here, and that’s important. It gives more fans the opportunity to get involved and see the biggest [MMA] show in the world live. I’m sure people will be there cheering Shogun on because he’s a legend of the sport, but I know people will be there cheering for me too.”

With Te Huna and Rua coming off losses, the UFC Fight Night 33 bout is critical in deciding their futures. Rua has recently expressed interest in dropping to middleweight, whilst Te Huna is chasing that elusive top-10 ranking as a light heavyweight. It’s been almost five months since Te Huna last saw the Octagon, but that’s not a bad thing.

“Having a bit of a break after the last one has done a lot for me,” Te Huna explained. “I took the Teixeira fight pretty quickly, and I was just on a high after winning. I’ve gone away for four months now, and I’ve come back fresh and ready to put on a show for the fans.

“I asked for this at the beginning of the year and I knew it was a long shot, but now I’ve got it,” Te Huna said. “Shogun is a huge draw card, and he’s coming off two losses, so you know that he’s going in there thinking he needs a win. He’s always taking risks, so you know he’s gonna do whatever it takes. We both need to win this one, and I’m going in there to show that I can hang with the best fighters in the division, and beating Shogun would see me shoot up the rankings for sure. I’ve got a lot to show after my last fight and winning this one would be huge for me.”

On Dec. 7, the time to be a fan finally comes to an end. Whilst there was once a time when a shy Te Huna was excited to get a photograph with a mixed martial arts legend like Shogun, you can be sure that the only photograph opportunity that Te Huna will be seeking in Brisbane is one where his hand is raised.

James would like to thank PC Cranes, Corporate Electrical Group, Boost Mobile, Pain Away, Nutrition Station, Competitive Edge and Shogun Martial Arts. Follow Te Huna on Twitter: @jamestehuna

Photo: James Te Huna (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.