Rua rewarded despite atrocious performance

DUBLIN, Ireland – UFC president Dana White came to the postfight news conference only briefly on Saturday following a stellar live night of fights at UFC 93 in the O2 Arena.

He stayed long enough to announce that there were two bouts chosen as Fight of the Night. It was a given that Marcus Davis' split-decision victory over Chris Lytle would be one of them.

But it seemed like someone's idea of a bad joke when White announced he was also giving $40,000 bonuses for co-Fight of the Night to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Mark Coleman.

If Rua were an honest man, he'd have declined the check from White because he neither deserved nor earned it.

And nor does he deserve to be regarded at this point as one of the elite light heavyweights in the world because he's performing at a very substandard level.

Coleman gassed out about three minutes into the fight, but he deserves respect for simply getting into the cage and competing as hard as he did. He had little to offer, but he pushed the supposed superstar nearly to the limit.

Coleman is 44 and had not fought in 27 months prior to Saturday. Plus, he fought for the first time at 205 pounds, cutting about 25 pounds from his normally muscular frame.

He was ready to be stopped in the first round, and Rua couldn't stop him. He was ready to go in the second round, and Rua didn't have the gas in his own tank to finish him off.

Coleman finally went after being hit with an overhand right as he was standing along the cage in the final minute of the fight. While not quibbling with referee Kevin Mulhall's decision to stop the bout, he also didn't give Coleman much leeway.

And it's not as if Rua pounced like a cat. He moved more like a housecat that had gotten into a bag of Friskies and gorged itself. He was slow and sluggish and not particularly menacing.

In addition to the bonus, Rua got a main event spot at UFC 97 in Montreal on April 18 opposite Chuck Liddell, White announced after the fight.

Liddell certainly hasn't been terrorizing anyone like the Iceman of old, but if Rua doesn't significantly step up his game, count on Liddell getting another Knockout of the Night bonus.

Rua was that bad.

He didn't look much like a winner on Saturday at the postfight news conference. Most of the questions posed to him were regarding his poor performance and suspect conditioning. He sat glumly throughout the event, rarely cracking a smile.

He blamed his poor performance on a 16-month layoff following a loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76. Rua, who lost his conditioning in that submission defeat, had two surgeries on his knee from which he needed to recuperate.

"I stayed sidelined for one year and a half," Rua said. "I went through surgeries. That is not easy, and that took a lot of my conditioning. It's one thing to train and another thing to fight. When you get back to fighting, you have to get back your rhythm. I paid a price for that, but I'm sure that by my next fight, I'll be more prepared and in better shape, with better conditioning, to give my fans a great show."

That would be a perfectly reasonable excuse, except Rua said 180 degrees the opposite at the prefight news conference. On Thursday, he walked to the microphone, and in an opening statement, before he was asked a question, said he had trained feverishly and that training always is harder than the fights.

Coleman was hurting Rua with a jab that looked like it was moving in slow motion Saturday, but it kept landing the range and eventually won over the crowd. The sellout crowd of 9,369 had overwhelmingly favored Rua when the show began.

But by the third round, the crowd switched its loyalties to Coleman. He was the guy with little making the most of what he had. Rua, reputedly one of the UFC's most naturally gifted fighters, was the guy squandering his fortune.

Rua can't be regarded as a major figure if he either struggles against or is beaten by Liddell.

It's time for Rua to show the skills that caused many to rank him as the second-best fighter in the world at the time he signed with the UFC in 2007.

Right now, it's not clear he's the second-best fighter in his family; brother Murilo might be.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic was a colossal flop in the UFC after his much-ballyhooed move from PRIDE in 2006. And Rua now is riding that same path as Cro Cop.

Rua only recently turned 27 and has plenty of time to become the dominant fighter he was when he won the PRIDE Grand Prix in 2005.

These days, though, that fighter is long, long gone.