Friday, Oct. 16, 2009 | midnight
Like everyone else in the Staples Center next Saturday night, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua knows who the favorite will be when the lights go down for the main event of UFC 104.
“It’s only right that he’s the favorite. He’s the No. 1 fighter in the weight class and the champion,” said Rua of facing UFC lightweight champ Lyoto Machida in Los Angeles.
“I give him props, and I think it's only right he's the favorite."
While the betting public might not be on the 27-year-old Rua’s side (some gambling sites have Machida listed as much a minus-500 favorite), the Brazilian believes in his potential to walk out of the Octagon with the 205-pound belt around his waist.
“I believe in my potential. I know what I can do. I feel 100 percent focused,” said Rua, who is coming off a first-round TKO victory of UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell at UFC 97 in April.
“I only train, eat and sleep. I’ve tried to take each fight as a step toward my goal. Now, the time his come. It’s time for me to rise up to the occasion.”
In doing so, Rua would accomplish what 15 other fighters have not been able to do — defeat the unbeaten Machida.
“I think people call Lyoto Machida a puzzle because he's a very different kind of fighter. He fights in a different style than most people fight," Rua said of his opponent’s unconventional Machida Karate, based off Shotokan Karate.
"It's very difficult to find sparring partners and train with sparring partners who will emulate his style so you can get used to it.”
Then there’s the fact that the counter-attacking, defensive-minded Machida, rarely gets hit.
“I believe Lyoto Machida is a fighter who fights with a counter-strike style, so if you expose yourself to him by overly pressing forward he can take advantage of that and capitalize and hit you, hurt you and take advantage of your exposure,” said Rua of Machida, who leads the UFC in least amount of strikes taken.
“I think you have to be patient enough to find the right moment to attack, to know when to engage, when to connect with your strikes and when to pursue him so you don't get exposed to his style and his counter-striking abilities."
Sounds good in principle, but previously unbeaten Rashad Evans couldn’t figure Machida out at UFC 98 in May.
“The Dragon” handed Thiago Silva his only career setback in January and held off Tito Ortiz at UFC 84.
Granted, at one time not to long ago, Rua (18-3 overall MMA mark) looked like the baddest 205-pounder on the planet.
Before suffering a broken arm during a fight with Mark Coleman during 2006, Rua had run off eight straight victories in PRIDE — including a string of four in a row over the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona to claim the 2005 middleweight grand prix title.
“I’ve followed Shogun’s career for a long time,” Machida said. “Everyone knows what he’s accomplished in his career. We know each other. We respect each other. But at the end of the day, we want the same thing.”
Which is why the Curitiba, Brazil, native came to the UFC after the promotion bought out PRIDE.
But he looked sluggish as he suffered a submission loss to Forrest Griffin in his UFC debut at UFC 76 in September 2007.
Things didn’t get better as two knee injuries and subsequent surgery derailed his career for a year and a half.
While he came back and scored a TKO victory over Coleman at UFC 93 in January, Rua didn’t look like the fighter he once was.
That changed, as he looked sharper with his quick win over Liddell.
And now no matter how many fans may be writing him off against Machida, Rua says he’s ready to put on a special performance.
"Ever since I came to the UFC, my dream is to be the champion of the show. I take each fight as a step toward the goal. Now, the time has come to fulfill the dream,” Rua said.
“This means the world to me, and it's about time to rise to the occasion and achieve my dream."
Andy Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.