There were a great number of questions about which Mauricio "Shogun" Rua would show up to face Chuck Liddell on Saturday night at UFC 97. Long forgotten were the days of Shogun's reign as the top 205-pound fighter in the world while competing in Pride. The Brazilian was able to silence a great many of his critics, however, with a first round TKO over former light heavyweight champion Liddell.
From a loss to Forrest Griffin to multiple knee surgeries to a lackluster showing in victory over Mark Coleman, Rua hadn't seemed like the destructive force he once was when fighting in Japan, but he says that everything fell into place for the fight with Liddell and the old Shogun is back.
"I did everything that I could do right. I prepared right. I ate right. I dedicated myself to the most," Rua said at the UFC 97 post-fight press conference. "So I can say that I gave a good performance and I showcased my best and I hope to stay like this."
The knee injuries and subsequent surgeries sidelined Rua for more than a year following a loss to Griffin in his UFC debut, but while he admits that he was healthy going into his fight against Coleman, he still wasn't completely acclimated to his surroundings yet.
"When I fought Coleman, my knees were already heeled. I was already clinically 100 percent, but with fight rhythm, I still need to adjust to the space of the Octagon. I needed more fights in a row, more rhythm, and now I can say I feel much better acquainted to the UFC and to the Octagon," Rua said.
The biggest question heading into Saturday night was Rua's cardio, which seemed to fail him in both of his previous two fights, but now that he's healthy and fighting regularly, he says that has all changed.
"(I'm) in much better shape because of the continuous training," said Shogun.
Knowing that Liddell presented problems in several areas for the fight, Rua admits he stepped in with a very specific strategy to try and get the win, thus propelling himself back into contender's status in a stacked light heavyweight division.
"My strategy was to fight the three rounds with him standing up, because I understand that he is a very good wrestler, and that I could get very tired trying to take him down, and forcing takedowns," commented Shogun. "So I understood I had to train stand-up and exchange blows with him. That was the only way to fight him."
The gameplan worked to perfection and Rua got the TKO win in the first round in what may be Liddell's last fight ever in the UFC. The former Pride champion looks to stay very active in 2009, and start gunning for more top contenders to vault himself back to the top of the 205-pound weight class.