Considering how much success Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has enjoyed in his mixed martial arts career, it may come as a surprise to some to see him as an underdog to Jon Jones, a challenger with 13 professional appearances under his belt.
The two light heavyweights will square off in the UFC 128 main event on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as Rua defends his crown for the first time since he captured it from Lyoto Machida 10 months ago. In June, the 29-year-old Brazilian underwent another knee surgery -- his third since joining the UFC in 2007.
Sherdog.com recently caught up with dozens of professional trainers and fighters to gauge their opinions on the Shogun-Jones showdown:
Nick Thompson: The fight between Jones and Rua reminds me of a struggle through which [Derrick] Noble and I once went. Noble and I were just boys at the time, and we were riding on a plane that crashed on an isolated island. Noble found a conch shell and used it to call together all of the fellow surviving boys. I was elected leader of the group, with the goals of having fun until rescue and maintaining a fire so as to be rescued. A rival faction, the hunters, however, quickly formed. Simultaneously, the boys began to believe a monster inhabited the island. The hunters went to catch a wild hog and did so, but in doing so, they abandoned the fire and we missed a chance at rescue. This -- and the fear of the monster -- only caused the division between my group and the hunters to grow until we were two separate camps. Eventually, the hunters raided our camp in order to steal Noble's glasses -- the instrument my camp used to light our fire. In the raid, the hunters killed Noble by smashing his head with a rock, and I was forced to flee. Just as the hunters launched a manhunt for me, we were rescued. Yes sir, that was quite a struggle.
Fabricio Werdum: I believe in experience and Shogun's victory.
Mike Constantino: Very tough fight to break down. Shogun has been in there and beaten the best, and he is Jones' toughest test yet for standup and ferocity. Jones has all of the tools to be a champion. If I have to pick, I say Jones by ground-and-pound.
Keith Berry: Well, now that I just got a bunch of pain meds in my system, I feel like this is the perfect time for a 'pros' pick'; my appendix burst, and I'm in a hospital bed. Anyways, it's time for a little truth on the Jones versus Rua fight. There's going to be a feeling-out period, then Rua will use kicks to score points and [there will be] a fourth-round Rua finish via TKO. But it will be a controversial stoppage, and their second fight will be even better.
Roy Arriola: When I put both side by side, there is no comparison. Rua equals confidence, experience, battle tested. Easy pick. But then you look at Jones. He is young [and] hungry but not yet ready for what comes with the huge spotlight. I don't think Jones has what it takes to survive in the later rounds. Maybe this is gut-check time. I think so. Rua wins by TKO, Round 2. On this night, I will not be watching to see these two warriors do battle; it will only be to watch Urijah Faber make his UFC debut.
Marlon Sandro: I think that Shogun will submit him. He is more versatile on the ground and has more weapons, even underneath. Although Jones' takedowns are good, I think he'll end up submitted by Shogun.
Ron Foster: Out of all the pros' picks I've done, this is the hardest one that I have had to do. Jones is a monster -- great striking [and] great ground -- but he has never faced a fighter like Shogun. The funny thing about it is I can say the exact same thing about Shogun. I can't pick a winner in the fight, but the fans will win for sure. I think I'm going to keep my foot out of my mouth and say I can't pick a winner.
Ricardo Liborio: Hard to believe that Shogun is an underdog. Shogun by TKO.
Georgi Karakhanyan: Jones by TKO in Round 4.
Shamar Bailey: I'm picking Shogun in this one. He has proven himself over and over against top competition. Jones hasn't faced the same level of competition, but his talent is unlimited. It will be a test between unlimited talent on one side and experience on the other. I'm rolling the dice on experience. Shogun for the win, as long as he doesn't get grounded-and-pounded.
Hank Marducas: Shogun, second-round TKO.
Billy MacDonald: Bones [Jones] will get truly pressured for the first time in his professional fight career but will come up with something crazy and take it via TKO in Round 3.
Kultar Gill: This could be one of the most interesting and entertaining fights in UFC history, or I can see Jones holding Shogun down for the entire five rounds and winning a decision by superior wrestling. I can't pick this time.
Tom Gavrilos: Jones is going to be champion -- one day. This could end in so many ways on either side, but I just have to go with Shogun. Shogun may have faded late in the past, but Jones has never seen a Round 4 in his short career. Shogun is too much too early in Jones' future stellar career. Reach [goes to] Jones, but striking [goes to] Shogun; wrestling [to] Jones but Brazilian jiu-jitsu [to] Shogun. I believe Shogun's meteoric rise to Pride champion at 23 was based heavily on technique. In contrast, while Jones is very gifted and becoming better every day, he has more so been aided by his physical attributes and athleticism.
Pedro Rizzo: I think that Shogun wins by knockout in the second round.
Benji Radach: Well, it's hard to stop the momentum Jones has going, but I gotta pull for Rua. I fought his brother, 'Ninja,' and the dude was a tough SOB. Mauricio has been in there with the best, so I gotta pull for the champ.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I am cheering for Shogun to win this fight, and I'm hoping his diverse skillset and experience in big fights will carry him through. I think Bones Jones comes off a bit too cocky and arrogant. I feel like most of the MMA world is cheering for Shogun, but the reality is Jones is really unorthodox, has solid wrestling, great athleticism and a strong, lanky frame, which makes him a nightmare for most guys. He isn't afraid to take risks and go for it, but I'm hoping Shogun can pull this one off by KO. Unfortunately, common sense tells me Bones Jones wins by TKO from elbows after securing a few takedowns.
Sergio Cunha: Shogun is better standing and on the ground, has more volume and fighting experience. He will win with heart.
Gabe Ruediger: Interesting match up. I lean toward Jones due to his wrestling. The only thing that Jones hasn't proven is how he handles being behind. He has dominated every opponent, so there has been no chance [to do so]. I hope, regardless of the outcome, that he will have to battle some adversity.
Jason Von Flue: The last time [UFC President] Dana White made the rough comment, 'This guy is the future of this weight class,' GSP [Georges St. Pierre] went on to lose to Matt Hughes. But in doing so, he gained from it, and look at what he has accomplished since. That being said, Dana made similar comments about Jones, and I expect a similar outcome: Rua to win this fight, [with] Jones learning from the loss and becoming a better fighter for it.
Nate Marquardt: Jones by TKO, maybe even in the first. He's too talented and hungry for Shogun.
Buddy Clinton: A few different factors should be looked at going into this one: experience, time between fights and previous injuries. On paper, hands down Shogun has fought higher-caliber opponents over his career that started back in '02. This has given him the edge in experience, but with all those years of battle comes injuries. The layoff between his Machida fights due to an injury and the last one to now from yet another tough injury will eventually take a toll on his body. With a career just beginning in '08, Jones has faced quality opponents but not to the level Shogun has. He continues to rise and meet each new challenge while gaining experience. I don't believe the short turnaround from his last fight to this [one] will affect him too much due to his youth. Going back to my point from earlier, he has not yet accumulated the injuries Shogun has. I look for a slow start, but once the action begins it will increase at a rapid pace. Shogun's injuries are going to get the best of him in this fight and affect his reactions and counters as the fight goes on. Jones is a finisher and will capitalize on these opportunities. I see Jones pulling out the win via KO in the fourth.
Sam Hoger: Jones will leave a trail of bones.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza: I bet on Shogun's victory.
Paulo Nikolai: Shogun is a great fighter, and I bet on his victory.
Marc DellaGrotte: 'Wow!' That's what I'm thinking. Gonna be a sick fight. Jones [has] not [been] tested yet but [is] up for the test of his life in a very tough Shogun. When you look at their records, it's obvious the experience factor goes to Shogun. However, Jones is dangerous everywhere and always seems to find a way to get it done. They both have momentum and will both show [it] in the fight. Don't see this going to a decision. I give the advantage in aggression and resume to Rua, but I give the advantage of craftiness and youth to Jones. Either way it goes, I think Jones is young but ready for the task of possibly defeating a legend [to] become the next UFC champ. No matter what, I think the fans will be pleased.
Micah Miller: Shogun is the truth. I don't think he's ready to pass the torch yet, but odds aren't good for guys coming off knee surgery. I'm gonna say Shogun wins and calls out Anderson [Silva] in what would be the sickest super fight ever.
Travis Wiuff: I think Jones wins this in the third round by ground-and-pound. Very close fight up to that point. Shogun wins first two rounds, but Jones gets a takedown in third round and finishes him.
Brendan Schaub: Jones by TKO in the second. He has too many weapons and stamina.
Jeff Monson: Rua by decision.
Jorge Santiago: Hard fight. Jones is very talented but doesn't have the experience of Shogun. I do not bet on anyone, but I think that the fight does not reach the fifth round.
Gerald Harris: I'll go with Jones. I can't tell which Shogun will show up, the post-injury Shogun or the man who defeated Machida and [Chuck] Liddell. It's gonna be cool to see Jones fight after the third round, but training with Jackson's [gym] will have him well-prepared.
Marvin Eastman: I think Jones is a monster; he's young and ready to get that title. He has the best of both worlds, [as he is] a great wrestler and can strike standing. Plus, he [has] gansta elbows, none like Shogun has seen. He obliterated [Vladimir] Matyushenko, the great wrestler, and everybody else he's faced. The only person that can beat Jones is himself -- with mistakes. If he pressures Shogun the whole fight, it will be a wrap and he will be champ. He's just gotta be able to go five rounds hard; I know Rua can. Jones by TKO [via] cuts with elbows in four.
Jaime Fletcher: I think Jones' length and wrestling is a problem. He also has shown some submissions. That's where I think he will win. Shogun will be prepared, and he always brings it. The more Jones stands with him, the more I give the edge to Rua. Jones will be well-coached and stay away from the dangerous exchanges and win with a submission.
Nam Phan: I'm rooting for Shogun, but I think Jones is gonna take it. Bones is just too crazy.
Travis Lutter: I am picking Jones in this one. His wrestling and athleticism, I think, will be too much for Shogun.
Eric Pele: I love this matchup. My thoughts in a nutshell are that if Jones doesn't finish Shogun, he'll outhustle him for the W. I say this with all the respect to Shogun: I just think the best of him was five years ago -- too many wars and wear and tear on his body and mind. And Jones is so fresh in his mind, body and soul.
Roan Carneiro: I think that Shogun wins by knockout in the first round.
Ray Elbe: Bones Jones takes this fight.
John Hackleman: I think it's going to be a great, exciting fight, and it's going to really test Bones to the core. But I think Bones' superior wrestling and unorthodox striking is going to be too much for Shogun to handle. By no means do I think it's going to be an easy test for Jones because he's going to need to be on his A-game, which he sure seems to be all the time. I'm not going to pick knockout or decision or anything, but I am picking him. I just think he's going to have too many tools in his toolbox for Shogun.
Court McGee: I pick Jones.
Josuel Distak: I think Shogun will win using his jiu-jitsu.
Anthony Leone: I think Shogun has the style to beat Jones. He's an aggressive striker, and heavy hands are a key to beating Jones. Shogun has to be able to stop the takedown and get up off his back if taken down. That is what is going to win this fight. If Jones can get the takedowns throughout the rounds and keep mixing it up with strikes, I think he wins. Now, if Shogun can execute his aggressive striking with takedown defense, on paper that looks to be the key to victory. But this is MMA, so we really do not have a clue what's really going to happen.
Damacio Page: I'm going to have to take Jones via Diamond Dave judo chop.
Blake Bowman: Don't care. Awesome fight. Can't wait. It's like Christmas.
Pros Picking Jones: 21
Pros Picking Shogun: 18
No Pick: 7
Mike Sloan is a contributor to Sherdog.com. You can also contact Mike Sloan at www.facebook.com/mikesloan19. Brian Knapp contributed to this report. Gleidson Venga and Brian Knapp contributed to this report.