In August, Sonnen submitted Rua via guillotine choke in the first round of their light heavyweight bout at UFC Fight Night 26. When asked if he went into the bout thinking he had a chance to submit "Shogun," Sonnen gave a candid response.
"I don’t think Shogun was ready to go that night," Sonnen said. "I think he was too much of a sportsman to make excuses, unlike most guys. I think he let me have my moment. I don’t think that was the real Shogun I faced."
It was an honest answer, but one that begged another question: Who is the real Shogun these days?
Rua (21-8) will look to prove a growing number of doubters wrong Friday when he faces up-and-comer James Te Huna at UFC Fight Night 33 in Brisbane, Australia.
A living legend of mixed martial arts, Rua has struggled since winning a UFC title in May 2010, losing four of his next six fights. The talented Brazilian, now 32, hasn’t just lost either -- he has taken a ton of damage in the process.
As much as it breaks the hearts of fight observers, the words "Shogun" and "done" have run together a lot leading up to this fight -- a reality that has not been lost on Rua.
"I have heard those remarks," said Rua, who maintains there was nothing physically wrong with him in the Sonnen fight. "This is really something that should only matter to me and my team, though.
"We should decide what I can and can't do. It doesn't really matter to anyone else. We're the ones who know what's going on and we'll call the shots."
It's exactly the type of answer you'd expect (and, quite frankly, hope) to hear from a fighter with as much heart as Rua -- but it doesn't change the situation.
Prior to his last fight, Rua had never suffered back-to-back losses in an 11-year career. Over the course of that career, he has undergone three knee surgeries. And despite recent reports of a willingness to revamp his career as a middleweight, Rua says there is a "misconception" of his intent to change divisions. It sounds as though it would be a very difficult cut.
"I just answered a fan at a Q&A," Rua said, adding he hasn't weighed 185 pounds in about eight years.
What Rua needs, more than a different weight class, is to look like the "real Shogun" again. He sounds confident he will Friday.
He spent this training camp in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as opposed to his home base in Curitiba, Brazil -- working with UFC veterans such as Demian Maia, Luiz Cane, Daniel Sarafian and Antonio Mendes. He says he's 100 percent healthy.
If his skill set and athleticism aren't declining, there has to be another reason for the skid. Rua doesn't generally like to talk about his losses, but he believes he has gotten into the habit of throwing out game plans too quickly after getting hit.
"Sometimes you have a strategy when a fight starts, but you get hit with a punch with small gloves and everything can change," Rua said. "It's tough sometimes to keep a game plan when you get hit. It changes the whole dynamic of the fight."
Rua has been so dangerous for so long, you want to believe Sonnen was right. Rua isn't done, it's just the "real Shogun" didn't show up in Boston that night. Maybe he'll be in Australia.