Mauricio “Shogun” Rua has adopted a new approach and surrounded himself with an all-star cast of trainers as he prepares for one of the most significant fights of his career.
Once considered the world’s premier 205-pound competitor, the Brazilian gunner will face former light heavyweight champion and future hall of famer Chuck Liddell in the co-main event at UFC 97 “Redemption” on April 18 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“This time, I’m doing 100 percent of my preparation in Sao Paulo, [Brazil],” Rua said. “Here, I’m 100 percent focused on training; my life here is a routine, and I’m training three times a day.”
Rua (17-3) -- who owns wins against Quinton “Rampage Jackson, Alistair Overeem (twice) and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira -- was not happy with his performance against Mark Coleman at UFC 93 in January. He picked up the first UFC victory of his career when he stopped the 44-year-old on third-round strikes but appeared lethargic through much of the fight and struggled to put away Coleman.
“Against Coleman I wasn’t this focused,” Rua said. “Maybe [it was] because I was at home [in Curitiba, Brazil,] with my family and I was a little relaxed. Here, I have more motivation.”
In advance of his battle against Liddell, Rua has enlisted the help of four top trainers. He invited one of the most respected men in Brazil, Sergio Cunha, to serve as his head coach. In an effort to sharpen his jiu-jitsu, he brought in middleweight contender Demian Maia, who has submitted all five of his opponents inside the Octagon. In addition, Rua hired Eric Haddad, one of the top professionals in the Sao Paulo area, to improve his much maligned conditioning. Leaving no stone unturned, he also welcomed Renato Roma, a five-time national freestyle wrestling champion, into his camp.
Maia stepped in at the request of Wanderlei Silva, one of Rua’s longtime mentors.
“I opened my academy to his training,” Maia said. “Cunha is taking very good care of his training. Shogun is such a talented guy. He’s already in nice shape. Four weeks later, he will really be in his best shape, and it will be really hard for Liddell to beat him.”
Sergio Cunha, Maurico "Shogun"
Rua and Renato Roma.
Cunha, who has known Rua since he was 15, was vacationing in Curitiba when he received an invitation to join the 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix winner.
“Actually, I was working with B.J. Penn in Hawaii, but I came to Curitiba on vacation and to see my family, and he invited me to help him for this fight,” Cunha said. “Once B.J. was [between fights], I immediately accepted [the invitation] to help him.”
Considered one of the most technical products of the Chute Boxe Academy’s second generation team, Cunha has been impressed with Rua’s dedication to the UFC 97 bout.
“He knows it will be the fight of his life and is training really hard,” he said. “I’m really impressed with his physical and technical evolution in five weeks.”
Rua and his team have also put in the necessary work away from the gym. They have studied his UFC 71 technical knockout loss to Jackson and his most recent setback, a devastating knockout defeat to reigning light heavyweight king Rashad Evans at UFC 88 in September.
“We’re watching a lot of Liddell’s fights,” Cunha said. “Rashad had a good strategy, working on the counterpunching, and Quinton had it completely different, going on top of him, but Mauricio is more versatile and is working everything he can. We’re working on the possibility of taking this fight to the ground and working on the ground-and-pound or jiu-jitsu, since he’s 12 years younger than Liddell.”
Cunha wants all the bases covered.
“The most important thing is that he gets there well prepared with no injures,” he said. “The fans will see the Shogun that he was at Pride.”
Roma, who has spent the last month honing Rua’s wrestling game, believes Liddell (21-6) will have a hard time at UFC 97.
“His wrestling skills are evolving a lot,” Roma said. “People use to say that Liddell couldn’t be taken down. Yes, he can, and you will see that in this fight.”
Though he remains confident in his ability, Rua also has great respect for his opponent.
“Liddell is a guy who deserves all respect as a top fighter,” he said, “but I see myself victorious in this fight.”