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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua prepared for UFC Tokyo ‘homecoming’ aiming for redemption against Ovince Saint Preux

Brazilian veteran meets American aiming to make amends for 34-second defeat in 2014

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 September, 2017, 12:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 11:10pm

Every fighter starts out staring into the great unknown and for Mauricio Rua – long before he became known as “Shogun” and had established himself as a world champion – there was a moment in time when all he had in front of him was a ticket to Tokyo and hope.

“Back when I started training, the dream of every fighter in Brazil was to fight in Japan,” Rua recalls. “I matured as a fighter in Japan and this feels like a sort of homecoming.”

On Saturday, September 23, at the Saitama Super Arena, Rua will return to Tokyo to fight for the first time since 2007 as he headlines UFC Fight Night Japan with a light heavyweight bout against American Ovince Saint Preux.

The 35-year-old Brazilian was initially with Japan’s now-defunct Pride organisation, before signing on with the UFC and building a record that over the past 15 years in mixed martial arts stands at 25-10 overall, and includes a stint as the UFC light heavyweight champion.

But the first time Rua turned heads was in 2005 as a complete unknown, having landed in Tokyo on Pride’s invitation and fighting among the middleweights. Rua was waiting for a chance to change his destiny and it came with entry into Pride’s Middleweight Grand Prix and a place among 16 fighters.

No one, then, seemed to give Rua a chance, not least the money men. But Rua carved his way through the field – and took the title with a first-round knockout of fellow Brazilian Ricardo Arona.

“I was the dark horse,” Rua recalls. “I remember before the first round of the tournament, in some betting places I was the 16th ‘favourite’ to win for some bookmakers, out of 16 fighters. Every round people started to notice me more. When it was all over, I was very happy, and Japan had already welcomed me, but they started to treat me like a hero. It was truly great. It’s very difficult to describe something when you are talking about emotions. It was one of the happiest days of my life, and it was truly achieving a dream.”

Rua’s brother Murilo “Ninja” Rua and the great Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva had helped establish the reputation of Brazilian fighters in Japanese MMA circles. Rua’s fairy tale Grand Prix win helped alert the rest of the world to what was going on with the likes of the Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil, from which Rua had emerged.

Japan, Rua says on reflection, helped prepare him to take on the best in the world and once he landed stateside in 2007 he started to forge a career for himself in the UFC, moving up to the light heavyweight division, and winning it with a knockout of Brazilian Lyoto Machida with three minutes and 35 seconds gone in the first round on May 8, 2010.

So it’s smart business from the matchmakers at the UFC as they return to Japan next week for the first time in two years, signing on a revered hero ranked sixth behind the disgraced Jon Jones – for many the best MMA fighter of all time and the man who took Rua’s title away – and one place in front of his opponent Saint Preux (20-10).

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Rua will in Tokyo be facing a man who pretty much laid him to waste when they first met back in 2014, the bout ending with a 34-second knockout. But throughout his career Rua has made a habit of settling scores, having his revenge over the likes of Machida and Forrest Griffin in the past after losing at the first time of asking. There have been injuries along the way, too, including well documented knee issues.

Watch: Saint Preux defeats Shogun inside 34 seconds

“I think it’s all in your mindset,” Rua says of his resilience. “Being a fighter is not easy. People think about the fights, but the fights are the easiest part. The hardest parts are the training camps, the day by day life of pain, injuries, pressure. So you have to be strong in your mind and continue to push forward, trusting yourself, surrounding yourself with good people who really care about you, and knowing that all you can control is trying your best. Ain’t no use in putting more pressure on yourself than people already do.”

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Last time Rua met Saint Preux the American had been switched in 10 days before the bout as a replacement for the injured Jimi “Poster Boy” Manuwa. The Brazilian says his fight plan was all wrong but won’t use that as an excuse for the loss.

“It doesn’t take away anything from OSP,” says Rua, who comes to Tokyo on a 3-0 tear. “He is tough, always dangerous and it was his merits that won him the fight. I’m a blessed fighter, as I have been able to fulfil most of my dreams, such as being Pride champion, UFC champion, fighting in a stadium in my birthplace of Curitiba, Brazil, and winning the fight, being a coach at [UFC’s] TUF Brazil, and now fighting in Japan again.”

Victory next Saturday night will put Rua firmly in title contention once again but the veteran says he’s not looking further than performing for what will no doubt be a rapid band of local supporters.

“Being a champion again would be great, and it’s certainly a dream,” he says. “But I have learned to live things day by day, and take it a fight at a time. Now all I can think of is to fight OSP.”