Griffin looks for another win over Rua
When Mauricio "Shogun" Rua signed with the UFC in 2007, big things were expected of him. He was a fight away from a title shot against then-champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who was a victim of Rua's vicious soccer kicks two years earlier.
There was much hype, and when the announcement came that his first opponent was going to be "The Ultimate Fighter" winner Forrest Griffin, the reaction was pretty uniform in one of two thoughts.
It was either "Good Lord, does Forrest Griffin know what he's getting into?" or "Forrest is going to take a beating."
The only person who thought Griffin could win was probably Griffin himself. Rua was a killer, this force of nature who brutalized fighters in Pride and was coming to claim the top prize in the sport. Back then you could've argued that Rua was the best in the light heavyweight division and not heard as many detractors as you would now. Going into the fight you'd have thought Griffin was walking into his own execution. And then something happened.
Griffin went out and beat Rua up and down the cage.
After being choked out in the third after winning the first two rounds, this wasn't Rua's decline, it was Griffin's ascension to being a top-five light heavyweight, a position you could argue he still holds today. Getting the win, then defeating Jackson for the title, Griffin's rise to the top of the heap began with his victory over Rua. It gave him -- and, by proxy, every winner of "The Ultimate Fighter" -- a level of credibility they didn't have before then. It proved that the top fighters produced by the show weren't just reality TV stars; they could be some of the best fighters in the world.
Years later, Rua-Griffin 2 doesn't have that same sense of foreboding the first fight had. We have two of the top fighters in the division facing each other, and both are going to have fairly simple game plans coming into the fight.
Griffin is going to want to take the fight to the ground as quickly as possible. Rua is lethal on his feet, especially when he can start landing combinations. Griffin will look to take Rua down early and work for position, using his ability to take a punch and savvy kickboxing to keep a close distance. Watch for him to circle Rua into the cage, to try and maintain position in the middle and have Rua on his heels more often than he's moving forward. It's similar to how Jon Jones caught him with that big flying knee to begin their fight; Rua works best when he can dictate where the fight is. It's how Rua solved the "riddle" that was Lyoto Machida both times they fought.
Rua's movement is going to be the key in this fight; if he can draw Griffin into a slugfest and connect more than he takes, he can win the fight. Rua's best shot at winning is in the striking game. Of his 19 victories, only two haven't been by KO or TKO: a decision victory over Kazuhiro Nakamura and a submission via kneebar over Kevin Randleman. So, his method of victory will be by stopping Griffin via strikes. He has a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, but his ground game won't be as much of a factor as you'd think. Rua wins by stopping people; his record and his fighting style would suggest a submission or a decision victory to be more of an outlier than a probability.
It's here where he holds the distinct advantage and where he'll want the fight to stay. He needs to be more aggressive than Griffin and not let him control the pace and position. Rua lost the first fight for a lot of reasons, knee injury included, but the biggest one (and one that regularly gets overlooked) is that Griffin pushed a hard pace from the beginning and Rua was gassed early because of it. He's going to want to keep Griffin at bay with leg kicks and make him work a more methodical pace as opposed to the high-volume intensity he normally employs. Griffin's cardio is a weapon, and Rua needs to keep the pace under control to win the fight.
Rua's goal is to get Griffin to be cautious, to give up octagon control, so he can pepper him with shots and go for the kill-shot if Griffin gets rocked. Rua wins the fight if he can force Griffin into working a slower-paced standup war and by catching him with a power punch. Griffin's goal is going to be to avoid this becoming a kickboxing match and turn it into a position game. Once he gets Rua down he'll avoid posturing up for big shots, as Rua has a deadly offensive guard he hasn't had to use in some time, and Griffin will look to grind it out with some ground and pound.
Griffin has to avoid getting into a standing brawl with Rua, who has lightning hands and can connect on combinations quickly and viciously. Griffin can take a punch with the best of them, but his chin isn't granite; he's been stopped multiple times by guys who have similar power to Rua.
That'll be the key to the fight; Griffin's ability to keep this discipline and avoid the urge to get into a standup war with Rua.