Shogun Rua (22-8, 19 KO’s, 1 Sub)
The former UFC Light Heavyweight champion was at a crossroads in his career when he entered the Octagon against James Te-Huna in December of last year. Shogun had dropped his previous two fights, a loss by unanimous decision to Alexander Gustafsson, and subsequently got choked out by the loquacious Chael Sonnen in the first round back in August of 2013. Understanding full well that a third consecutive loss could spell his way out of the organization, Shogun knew that a victory in his next fight was crucial.
However, he avoided all that potential drama by coming into the fight in excellent shape and unloading a devastating short left hook that was timed perfectly upon the chin of the hard charging Te-Huna. The fight was barely a minute old when Te-Huna crashed to the canvas but it was a stunning reminder of how explosive Shogun can be when he trains hard and executes his sublime technique. Yet, it is incumbent upon Shogun that, at age 32, he takes his training seriously and not rely strictly on his natural abilities. He is no longer the alpha male in the light heavyweight category and injuries throughout his MMA career have derailed his aspirations to remain at the top of the division.
Dan Henderson (29-11, 13 KO’s, 2
In deference to Dan Henderson, head honcho Dana White has granted special dispensation to the future Hall-of-Famer and kept him in the fold despite his current three-fight losing streak. It is a rare set of circumstances that forces White to deviate from his “three strikes and you’re out” policy but it is an exception that the legendary Henderson richly deserves. However, if he does indeed bow to Shogun in this fight then it is probably a safe bet that the 43-year-old Henderson has seen his last performance inside the Octagon.
To be completely fair, Henderson was the victim (if you want to use that term) of two consecutive split decision losses. In February of 2013 at UFC 157 he was outpointed by Lyoto Machida and four months later he again fell short in the estimation of two of the three judges when he bowed to “Sugar” Rashad Evans. Losing to two former light heavyweight champions by a razor thin margin is nothing to be ashamed of but it was his last trip inside the cage that proved Hendo may be not long for this line of work. Yet another giant in the world of MMA awaited on November 9th, 2013 when Vitor Belfort landed a spectacular head kick upon the exposed crown of Henderson’s head and sent him to sleep in front of thousands of frenzied fans after barely a minute had elapsed in the opening round.
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The last time Henderson chalked up a victory inside the Octagon was on November 19th, 2011 when he bested Shogun in what eventually became the Fight of the Year. But that was 2 ½ years ago and time is no friend to a professional athlete when he is firmly ensconced in middle age. This will prove to be Henderson’s swan song because Shogun needs this victory like oxygen. Henderson realizes that he is no longer a viable contender in a division so firmly stacked as the UFC’s light heavyweight category.
Though Shogun, currently installed as a better than 2-to-1 favorite in UFC odds, did come up short the last time these two fought he will be on the winning end this time around and don’t be surprised if it ends with a knockout. Henderson has had his day and Shogun realizes Father Time is no friend to him either so time is of the essence.Play Mauricio Shogun Rua -219 at WilliamHill.com in your UFC picks.