At 22 years of age, he made his debut in a major fighting promotion and ran roughshod over all the competition. He was devastating in his delivery, finishing several opponents with shear brutality and precision.
Despite his impressive record, no one could avoid asking him about fighting his good friend and training partner, who was seemingly ahead of him in the division.
While many people probably think this conversation is about Jon Jones, it’s actually about his opponent, UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who shares an equally interesting past with his UFC 128 opponent.
The path that Jon Jones currently walks, is a stage of his career that Rua has already experienced. The young Brazilian destroyed his opponents when he started in Pride Fighting Championships in 2002 at only 22 years of age. He made it look easy and effortless as he blasted through fighters like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
When Rua looks at Jones as their UFC 128 showdown nears, he sees the parallels and knows what Jones is going through, because he went through it.
“I think obviously he’s 23 years old, which was my age when I was (rising up) and I became world champion at (Pride),” Rua said recently. “I think surely we have a lot of things in common, obviously the youth, the age, and he is beating through people soundly like I was back then. I just think our games are a little different as his strongest point is his wrestling and mine was my striking.”
The entire time Rua was blowing through the competition, his good friend and training partner Wanderlei Silva ruled at the top of the division as champion. The teammates couldn’t go far without being asked if they would one day fight each other.
Jones faces a similar situation with his good friend Rashad Evans, who was actually supposed to be in this fight, but a knee injury forced him out. Jones stepped into the spot and now can’t escape questions about fighting his friend and teammate.
Rua used his time with Silva as more of a mentorship, and never looked to fight him, but he did learn from him.
“I was truly very young back then and I always looked up, I had Wanderlei as a teammate who was already ahead of me, so I always looked up at Wanderlei and had him as inspiration and I wanted to reach his level to get to his status,” Rua stated.
Looking back on his time in Pride, Rua remembers those moments as the building blocks to the career he’s now built in the UFC, which culminated with him winning the UFC light heavyweight title in his last fight.
“I have some very good memories from those days because back then we had a great team with a bunch of friends and we had a great time together like we do nowadays with my team,” said Rua. “It’s even funny because my team (now) is actually pretty funny, so we have a great time. But I truly cherish those memories and I look back at them with great fondness.”
Career wise, Jones seems to be on the same road that Rua once traveled, but there is one major difference now that the Brazilian champion holds over his younger competitor.
Rua admits that after his incredible run in Pride, capped off with a Grand Prix drubbing of Ricardo Arona and several subsequent victories in a row, he got complacent. When he came to the UFC, Rua felt the brunt of losing his desire to fight for anything in particular.
And while it took him a few bouts to figure it out, now with that gold belt wrapped securely around his waist, Rua has found a new reason to fight and win.
“Yes, surely I already went through a lot and conquered my biggest dreams in the fight game. When I warmed up for the UFC belt some years ago, I went through some hard times to motivate myself,” Shogun admitted.
“But that changed. I learned a lot. And right now, since I already went through that, I face every fight as the fight of my life, as my dream that I need to conquer. And obviously, at this point, I don’t fight for money anymore, because thank God, financially I’m already stable. So I fight for my family. I fight for my team and for my fans. This is my big source of motivation and where I get my fuel from.”
Shogun will try to once again exert that energy when he faces the younger version of himself at UFC 128 this weekend in New Jersey.