While everyone is still gushing over the masterful performance by Jon “Bones” Jones at UFC 128, it is time to examine where the vanquished, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, goes from here. Shogun’s reign as title-holder in the Light Heavyweight division was short-lived, but he is still one of the top fighters in the division and has a loyal following. Rua must wait a minimum of 60 days before competing again, receiving the standard medical suspension following a TKO, and was also given an indefinite suspension pending a CT head scan. Once he is cleared to fight again, who should he face?
Forrest Griffin: This would be a rematch of one of the most memorable upsets in UFC history. Rua entered the cage at UFC 76 as a heavy favorite, his first fight in the UFC after starring in PRIDE and fresh off a knockout of Alistair Overeem. Griffin was able to outwork Rua over the course of the fight, and submitted him by way of rear naked choke late in the third rounds. Many pointed to Shogun’s knee troubles as a factor in Griffin’s win, but nevertheless Griffin walked away the victor and in his next fight claimed the Light Heavyweight Championship with a win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Rua has expressed his desire for a rematch in the past and with Griffin’s recent wins over Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin serving to raise his stock in the title picture, this matchup makes a lot of sense in terms of the division’s landscape as well.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson: This would be another rematch, going back to the fighters’ days in PRIDE. In 2005, Rua defeated Jackson in the first round, finishing him with soccer kicks (illegal under UFC rules). Jackson is coming off a controversial decision win over Lyoto Machida, who Rua split back-to-back title matches with. Prior to that Jackson lost to Rashad Evans, who will now challenge Jones for the title. If Rua is able to get back in the octagon quickly this matchup would make sense as the winner could potentially face the winner of Jones-Evans for the Light Heavyweight crown.
Ryan Bader: Also victimized by “Bones”, Bader is an up-and-comer in the 205-pound division. Bader’s only professional loss came to Jones in his last fight, back in February of this year. This matchup would provide another good test for Bader as he attempts to climb the ladder and earn his own rematch with the new champion, while giving Shogun a chance to prove he is still one of the dogs in the division.
Phil Davis: Davis has been targeted as a fighter who could potentially be a good matchup for Jones. Mr. Wonderful is undefeated in his professional career as a mixed martial artist, but a matchup with Shogun would be a major jump in competition. Davis is currently slated to take on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 24 on March 26. If Davis wins that fight, he could set himself up for a big fight to catapult him to the top of the division.
The focus since the Rua-Jones fight this past weekend has been on the rise of Jon Jones, and rightfully so. Jones won that fight more than Shogun lost it. He used his athleticism and explosive striking to overwhelm Rua and eventually TKO him. The comeback trail for Shogun is not necessarily a long one, and if he wins his next fight he should be right back in contention for a title shot, and presumably, a rematch with Jones.