At UFC 274, two grizzled veterans (a running theme for this card) in MMA legend Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua (27-12 MMA, 11-10 UFC) and UFC mainstay Ovince Saint Preux (25-16 MMA, 13-11 UFC) are set for an engaging, if largely inconsequential, light heavyweight matchup.
UFC 274 has something of a running theme. The two men who make up the main event have more than sixty professional fights between them, the co-main sees one of the greatest strawweight fighters ever versus the former and inaugural champion in a rematch eight years in the making, and fan favorite Tony Ferguson is set to make what many hope to be a successful comeback against former Bellator champion Michael Chandler after suffering a string of high-profile defeats. But how does the bout between Rua and Saint Preux stack up for both men, and what is there for either party to gain? Because, quite frankly, there is not a whole lot to lose.
Mauricio Rua and Ovince Saint Preux Set to Rematch at Light Heavyweight
‘Shogun’ is a legend of mixed martial arts. Widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport, Rua holds the rare distinction of being both a PRIDE and UFC champion across his career. To hold world championships in the two promotions that boast the most elite fighters on the planet is an unbelievable achievement, and an article on Rua’s impact and legacy would likely run on forever. Nowadays, though, Rua is long removed from the glory of his championship days. With a 2-2-1 record in his last five fights (that lone draw to Paul Craig eventually resulting in a TKO loss when rebooked), Rua is out of the rankings, a seemingly endless distance removed from any championship prospects, and in the eyes of many, steadfastly approaching retirement. A matchup against Saint Preux might seem like shrewd matchmaking, given their comparable experience and preference for striking.
However, Saint Preux has never been an easy night out. Saint Preux’s career position can be compared to Rua’s in many ways. Once very much an elite world-class fighter, Saint Preux is 2-3 in his last five fights, coming into this fight off the back of two stoppage losses (both to strikes). Saint Preux has seemingly struggled to pick a direction for his career as of late, with two failed attempts to move up to heavyweight interspersed by a failure to make weight for a light heavyweight bout.
Safe to say both men are in a tricky, tricky spot.
Mauricio Rua vs. Ovince Saint Preux – Head to Head
In the pair’s first clash, Saint Preux knocked out Rua with a flurry of grounded strikes, which seem to have taken Rua in and out of consciousness until the referee mercifully drew the fight to a close. Despite this being a full seven years ago, fans at the time were calling for Rua’s retirement after the conclusion of this bout, which serves as a conclusive testament to Rua’s staying power and resilience in one of the most grueling sports on the planet.
Saint Preux is an unorthodox striker, heavily preferring the southpaw stance and often waiting for an opponent to present offensive openings rather than making those openings appear through his own aggression. Indeed, in many of his best showings, like his eclectic third round head-kick KO of Corey Anderson, Saint Preux was likely down two rounds on the scorecard, waiting to find his mark in an open exchange, uncomfortably close to what was likely a unanimous decision loss.
Saint Preux, then, obviously has an excellent kicking game. At times, he has shown excellent control over his own range, yet struggles when a fighter attempts to offensively close this distance. The aforementioned Anderson had great success when using his boxing to close distance and begin cage clinch and wrestling exchanges, only succumbing to the climactic head kick as he began to backpedal while in OSP’s kicking range. In Saint Preux’s last outing against Tanner Boser; however, he looked more tentative than ever. Could this be a desire to tread with more caution at heavyweight, knowing (courtesy of Ben Rothwell) just how hard some of them can hit? A fight against someone in Rua that he has already been successful against in the past should provide a definitive answer.
Mauricio Rua is at a crossroads. There is nothing left for him to achieve. He is unranked and forty years of age. He is likely five or six good wins removed from having his name mentioned in title discussions. Now, while the current UFC light heavyweight Glover Teixeira is also comfortably into his forties, Teixeira has never really fallen away from the elite. He has had his fair share of stumbles in the UFC, but never a string of violent ones, and he has never been long removed from a win over the world-class contemporary competition. Rua definitively is.
If Rua is to win this fight, he must look to take advantage of Saint Preux’s recent timidity, using a combination of volume striking and bodywork to negate Saint Preux’s best advantage, his ranged kicking. If he can negate this factor, and if the same Saint Preux that showed up against Boser makes an appearance, Rua’s chances of victory increase dramatically.
For Saint Preux, he cannot allow Rua to make his way inside the range without sharp counterwork. A counter left hook was what began the finishing sequence in their first fight, right as Rua swung wild haymakers at Saint Preux to close the distance. If Saint Preux can stab at the body, keep Rua frustrated with quick jabs and teep kicks and force him to make mistakes as he enters the pocket, there is no doubt he can replicate that moment: power is the last thing a fighter loses. But if Saint Preux becomes timid, if he fails to unwind those counter-attacks, then Rua is too experienced to allow those moments of opportunity to pass him by, and will likely take advantage of the clinch and grappling flaws that have plagued Saint Preux’s UFC career.
This is either man’s fight, and both men need it. With any luck, this may prove to be the dark horse of the entire card.
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