by Mick Hammond
If you ask most fighters, MMA or otherwise, what’s the one thing they don’t want to happen in a fight, it’s usually that it doesn’t go to the judges. Granted, the judges are there to help, and more often than not they get it right, but sometimes they get it very wrong. Such was the case of Murilo “Ninja” Rua’s last fight against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Pride 29.

Throughout the fight it seemed Rua was the aggressor and the more precise of the two fighters. While on the defensive every once in a while, he still in the eyes of many won the fight convincingly, except for the judges who gave the match to Jackson. So now Ninja returns against Golden Glory fighter Murad Chunkaiev to gain redemption, however Murad may just be a tougher task than Ninja may be expecting.

Once considered the successor to Pride Middleweight Champion Wanderlei Silva, Ninja has seen his share of ups and downs in a still relatively young career. Winning six of his first seven bouts (drawing one), including his first bout in Pride against Daijiro Matsui. It is because of these performances that many labeled him the next great Chute Boxe fighter.

Even after losing his first bout to Dan Henderson, Ninja was able to rebound in his next two bouts with wins to set up a grudge match between hated rival Ricardo Arona of the Brazilian Top Team. Arona was able to prevail in that fight, and then after a second consecutive loss to Kevin Randleman, it seemed as if Ninja might not be the dominant Silva’s successor after all.

Rua was able to regain a bit of what he lost in his previous fights by winning two in a row, albeit over lesser competition in Akira Shoji and Alexander Otsuka, the wins did allow him leeway enough with Pride to be brought into 2004’s Heavyweight GP.

Fighting noticeably heavier than he should be, a somewhat pudgy Rua was dominated by the natural heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov in their first round bout. Rua didn’t look as crisp as he had been at middleweight and the additional poundage took their toll on his defensive abilities as well. So thankfully for Ninja that would be his last bout at heavyweight as he moved back down to where he should be at 205lbs to take on Jackson at Pride 29.

Against Jackson it was a completely different fighter than we had seen in his previous bout for Rua. He again looked like he was in his element as he was against Shoji and Otsuka. He landed strikes cleanly and avoided trouble on the ground, leading up the eventual knee strikes that seem to be Jackon’s kryptonite. Yet the judges saw it otherwise, even though Jackson himself admitted he did not win the fight, still the decision was his.

So now Rua must return to form again and make sure this fight doesn’t go the distance. But with a fighter such as Murad you never know what you’re going to get. He’s an unknown x-factor and if he lives up to billing and past performances, this could be a bigger challenge than Rua or anyone may have expected.

While the name Murad Chunkaiev may not be familiar to people in the States, he is a member of Team Golden Glory, one of Europe’s premier teams. Training a long with the same group as Pride vets Alistair Overeem and Semmy Schilt, Murad has the training needed to make it on the big stage of MMA, but his record is spotty and so no one is sure just how he’ll do against tougher talent.

Starting his career in 2002, Murad’s entrance to MMA was through Holland’s 2 Hot 2 Handle shows. There he managed a 2-1 record with wins over the tough Yka Leino and UFC/Pride standout Andrei Semenov. His only loss came to the then undefeated Arman Gambaryn, but that’s where things get spotty.

Gambaryn, though undefeated at the time, has lost three of his last four fights, including two to UFC fighters Chael Sonnen and Kieth Jardine (of TUF 2). So how good can Murad be if his only loss comes to a fighter that hasn’t been able to step it up against solid international competition?

Things get even more spotty when looking at Murad’s last three wins as they’ve come over fighters with a combined record of 7-15, with only one of those fighters having an above .500 record. While he easily was the better fighter in those fights, how truly good can a 5-1 Chunkaiev be against top tier competition, such as Rua?

Those are the big questions for Murad heading into this fight. While he has the training to be a great fighter, the level to which he’s pushed himself in so far hasn’t exactly been the kind he’ll be facing in Pride. Also this fight against Rua will be Murad’s first outside of Holland, a place where he’s grown into being a comfortable favorite. While the Japanese crowd isn’t exactly hostile, it and the media have shown strong support for Rua in the past, placing Murad in the unfamiliar territory of being an underdog. As any fighter will tell you, that’s a strange place to be when you’ve known nothing but comfort your entire career.

They say styles make fights and this one could produce an entertaining ending. Rua will be looking to finish after having his last fight taken away from him by the judges. Chunkaiev has finished all but one of his opponents, so you know he will look to continue that trend. Both fighters are solid on their feet; they have outclassed their opponents standing more than they’ve been outclassed, so you know they will bang. So for all accounts and purposes this portion of the fight could be a push, with the determining factor going to the ground game.

On the ground is where interestingly Rua would be the favorite. It’s interesting because most people associate Chute Boxe with all out striking, but in truth they are a very well-versed team when it comes to the ground, in fact, Rua has never lost to a submission maneuver. Murad however comes from Golden Glory, a team that traditionally doesn’t produce great grapplers aside from Alistair Overeem. So while comfortable in the ground ‘n pound, Murad’s submission defence could be spotty, and Ninja is skilled enough to pull off a submission if he has the opportunity.

With the mantle of “Next Wanderlei Silva” now placed firmly on Ninja’s brother Maurico “Shogun” Rua, Murilo may perform better without the added pressure. He can finally be his own fighter and that could be a determining factor in the rest of his career. Chunkaiev is an unknown commodity, he can outwork his opponents and he is very dangerous if given an opening, but just how good is he? Most of his fights have come against lesser competition, but he does possess some of the best training around.

With both fighters looking to make their mark, and make it now, this could be the sleeper fight of the night. But both fighters must show up 100% ready for war, as the one who isn’t could quickly find themselves out of this fight, and out of the continuously growing Pride middleweight division.