Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011 | 7:05 p.m.
The first fight between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Forrest Griffin in 2007 resulted in such a stunning upset that many fans gravitated toward a rationalization to explain it.
Rua entered the UFC 76 matchup with Griffin as a 4-to-1 favorite. He was on a 12-1 stretch in PRIDE — with the only loss coming when he suffered a dislocated arm early in a bout against Mark Coleman — and unanimously considered the best light heavyweight in the world.
Griffin, who was best known for winning the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” submitted him via rear naked choke with 15 seconds remaining in the fight.
“It was pretty big for me at the time,” Griffin said. “It’s what got me the title shot.”
Although Griffin (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) went on to win the 205-pound championship belt, he never received full credit for his victory over Rua (19-5 MMA, 3-3 UFC). That’s because many blamed Rua’s performance on a knee injury that kept him out of the cage for 15 months after the bout.
Griffin, who trains locally at Xtreme Couture, will have a chance to silence that talk next weekend when he meets Rua again four years later in Rio de Janeiro as part of UFC 134’s pay-per-view card.
“I think it’s still a reasonably good fight for me,” Griffin said. “Go through 205 and find me the easy fights. Everyone in 205 is in that logjam, so there are no easy fights. The top 10 guys at 205 are all pretty good.”
Griffin isn’t out for validation in the co-main event bout. He said that despite the constant talk of Rua’s injuries, he had nothing to prove.
Rua is the one who’s still thinking about their first meeting, which he admitted was one of the most disappointing setbacks of his career.
“It was certainly a very bitter defeat and I got very sad,” he said through a translator. “But I really trained a lot to overcome the defeat and those feelings, so hopefully I’ll be able to overcome all of that and show a good performance.”
Knee injuries have become a recurring aggravation for Rua and affected his consistency. He returned from a 10-month surgery layoff in March to defend his belt against Jon Jones and looked far from his best.
Jones dominated and exhausted Rua from the beginning en route to a third round TKO victory. Fellow light heavyweight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson succinctly summed up Rua showing by calling it “rusty as hell.”
It came as a surprise because of how magnificent Rua had looked in two previous fights, when he scored first-round knockout victories over Lyoto Machida and Chuck Liddell.
“You just try to be ready for that Shogun, not necessarily the Shogun I fought,” Griffin said. “It seemed like when he fought Chuck, he was 100 percent and on his game. Hopefully, that’s not the guy that will show up but that’s the guy you want to be ready for.”
Although Rua is coming off a loss, UFC President Dana White said, a dominating victory over Griffin could put Rua as little as one fight away from another title shot.
He may have even more to lose, though. A defeat would make Rua 1-3 in his last four fights and nowhere near the light heavyweight belt.
“I only think about giving my best performance and winning this fight,” Rua said. “I don’t think of the worst-case scenario or what bad could come of this fight.”
Rua is the favorite again over Griffin, but this time at more toned down 2-to-1 odds. Griffin has come in as the underdog in five of his last six bouts and managed to go 4-2.
It’s not going to bother him, much like it didn’t at UFC 76.
“Being a top fighter, I knew that I could fight him again eventually,” Rua said. “I think he’s a fighter that evolved a lot and got a lot better since our last fight — so did I.”