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Does Mauricio "Shogun" Rua have enough gas left in the tank for another title run?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

The calendar tells one story, but only a part of it. It notes, correctly, that Mauricio "Shogun" Rua is a young man, at 30 one who is in the midst of his athletic prime.

Rua, though, is a mixed martial arts fighter, and the age of a fighter is measured not only by a calendar but also by the type of abuse one has taken.

Though Rua insists he's the same guy who is one of the sport's icons, his recent history would suggest his decline could come very quickly.

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Mauricio Rua is already bruised and bloody in the first round of his fight against Dan Henderson. (AP)

Rua fights Brandon Vera on Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles in the main event of UFC on Fox 4, with a shot at the light heavyweight title hanging in the balance.

UFC president Dana White said the man who looks the best in Saturday's final two bouts, between Rua and Vera and another between Ryan Bader and Lyoto Machida, will fight the Jon Jones-Dan Henderson winner for the title.

By resume, Rua would be an easy choice. But Rua's 2011 was a very difficult one, and few fighters come back strong after the kind of punishment he took in losses to Jones and Henderson.

Rua insists he's physically fine and will be the same as he's always been.

"I had a good break between fights and I am [not limited in any way]," Rua said. "The good thing is, I had no broken bones or other damage like that, so the recovery was simpler."

[Also: Brandon Vera puts home invasion nightmare behind him]

Take that, however, with an extremely large grain of salt. The last thing a fighter wants to do before a bout is let an opponent know he's vulnerable.

No fighter goes into a bout 100 percent. There are always bumps and bruises that are more annoying than anything else.

Rua, though, was battered and beaten so badly by Jones and Henderson that the question of whether he'll ever be the same is a valid one.

The body can only take so much abuse. It's why, for example, the average career of an NFL running back is so short. They are pounded repeatedly by extremely large, extremely fit men . It's no different than running a car into the wall 10 times in a row. Sooner or later, the car will start to break down.

Rua's bout with Henderson at UFC 139 last November is, arguably, the greatest match in MMA history. The fury with which they went at each other and the punishment each absorbed was jaw-dropping.

"[Rua's] last fight with Dan Henderson was one of the sickest fights I've ever seen in my life," White said.

For Rua, that fight was only eight months after another bout in which he was beaten very severely. He lost his title to Jones at UFC 128 on March 19, 2011, in a frightful beating. His face wouldn't have looked much, if any, worse than it did after the Jones fight had someone taken his head and slammed it into concrete eight or nine times.

Rua points to the fact that he beat Forrest Griffin after his loss to Jones as a sign that his body is fine. He took abuse from Jones, he said, but recovered to score a first-round stoppage of Griffin just five months later.

"When you are in this business, you are going to get injuries and you're going to take blows," Rua said. "But I made sure I took enough time to [recover]. I will be the same."

[Also: Ryan Bader: Win against Lyoto Machida could change my career]

But the adage that a fighter can get old overnight has some merit. And that is especially true for a fighter who has been in some of the kinds of high-pace, heavy contact type of battles Rua has been involved in.

If he's the old Rua, history would suggest he should roll over Vera. Rua has nine wins over men who have held either a UFC, PRIDE or Strikeforce title and has been one of the elite men in his division for years.

He's also motivated because he wants another shot at Jones. The one-sided loss he suffered doesn't sit well with him. He's got the pride that all elite athletes possess and wants another opportunity to prove himself.

His experience, though, has come in handy because he won't make the mistake that Vera concedes he made when he fought Jones.

"The very first time I fought Jon Jones, I just thought he was some young punk and I didn't respect him at all," Vera said. "I didn't even train hard and I didn't even pay him a mind, and the outcome showed itself. I got what I deserved for thinking the way I did, so if and when I do get a chance to fight Mr. Jones again, I promise he will have my full and undivided attention."

[Also: Cagewriter sits down with Joe Lauzon before his fight with Jamie Varner]

Rua isn't one to make such a mistake. There has been a big outcry that Vera A) got a main event slot and B) could get a title shot with a win. Mostly, that's because of his middling recent record, in which he's 1-2 with a no-contest (which was a loss before it was changed after Thiago Silva failed a drug test) and his lack of a marquee win in the division.

Those same arguments can't be made about Rua. And, to use Vera's terminology, Vera has Rua's full and undivided attention.

"He's a very tough guy as he has proven many times in the past and he's got a lot of [varied] skills," Rua said. "I have complete respect for his ability and for what he's done."

That leaves one question unanswered: Will it be the Rua of old who shows up on Saturday? Or will it be an old Rua?

Until the bell rings, no one knows for sure, not even Rua himself.

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