Long Weekend MMA Recap: ‘Ninja’ Rua Retirement
I’ve been away from civilization for a few days, hanging out at a cottage, relaxing and wondering what happened over the time I was away from my TV and the internet. There were multiple interesting events that took place while I was gone, including: Bellator’s season 4 finale, what turned out to be Murilo Rua’s final MMA fight, one of the top Middleweights outside of North America fighting, and a slew of Regional shows.
I’m conflicted about what I really feel is the biggest story that took place this weekend, as numbers and exposure-wise it would be the Bellator event and the continuing emergence of Patricio “Pitbull” Freire; but for any long time MMA fan it has to be the last bout in the tumultuous career of Murilo “Ninja” Rua. Since I like catering to myself, I’ll lead off with BAMMA 6 and Rua.
From Wembley Arena in London, the ever embattled BAMMA promotion put on their sixth card. Following a momentous card for British MMA last September, and a card featuring former UFC and current Strikeforce star Paul Daley, this offering from BAMMA didn’t feature quite the name value as past editions, although Tom Watson is beginning to develop quite a following of his own. In the main event, Watson faced off against an outmatched and well past his prime “Ninja”. From the very beginning of the fight it was clear we were watching the Rua of 2011, and not the 2001-05 version. He was constantly on the defensive, doing little other than back up and offer the occasional counter right hand or leg kick. By the second round, Watson had found his range and was tagging his foe with a variety of punches and kicks in what could have easily been a 10-8 round. Round three marked the demise of Murilo, as he was first rocked with a right hand, backed up against the cage and then was clipped with a head kick that left him out on his feet. Sadly, Watson was allowed to connect with three more unnecessary shots that left “Ninja” down for quite a while following the bout, which kind of epitomizes the second half of Rua’s career.
At the post-fight press conference, Rua announced his retirement. He exits MMA with a 20-12-1 record, that doesn’t at all tell the story of his career. Murilo began his career fighting in the Meca promotion in Brazil, which served as a training ground for numerous Chute Boxe fighters who would go on to take the MMA world by storm in the first half of the 2000’s. From there, Rua followed many of his compatriots to Japan where he quickly moved to PRIDE and put the MMA world on notice by massacring a helpless Daijiro Matsui, before losing a contentious decision to Dan Henderson. After these performances as a 21 year-old, Rua was looked at as the next big thing in MMA. He had a well-rounded skillset, was hyper-aggressive, and never seemed to get tired. Rua’s career in PRIDE would continue with mixed results, but never being able to get over the hump of beating a top fighter. Things all changed when Rua unwisely decided to participate in the 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix PRIDE held. Matched up with Sergei Kharitonov in the first round, Murilo was knocked out brutally, and some even claim that he may have suffered brain damage in this fight, which has been evidenced in his changed speech patterns over the years.
After that defeat, Rua has gone a pedestrian 10-8 to close out his career, struggling against fighters like Watson, who he would have dispatched with ease earlier in his career. It has been a disappointing end to a career that has been, well, disappointing. While “Ninja” was a victim of the time he entered MMA – for instance, the sport lacked a high level Middleweight division in the UFC or PRIDE until 2005, excluding a few 185lb title bouts in the UFC around 2001-02 – he really can be summed up as an incredibly entertaining, skilled fighter who never truly lived up to his full potential.
If, like me, you want to revisit some of Rua’s best performances in light of his retirement, I suggest you find a way to watch his shellacking of Daijiro Matsui, bout with Dan Henderson, and his greatest fight: a Brazilian grudge match with Mario Sperry during the height of the Chute Boxe/Brazilian Top Team rivalry.
Part 2 of the Long Weekend recap can be found here.