Two of the biggest and baddest veteran light heavyweights in MMA history will collide for the first time this Saturday night (December 10, 2011) as former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz takes on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira on the UFC 140 main card.
Ortiz has had a rough past five years, but he finally snapped out of his funk with a thrilling first round submission of Ultimate Fighter season eight winner Ryan Bader that thrust him back into the spotlight. He would lose his momentum against Rashad Evans just one month later, but he is looking to remain relevant with a big victory against a big Pride veteran.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira has defeated some of the biggest and baddest men in the 205 pound division, but lately, he's been used as fodder for top prospects, most recently dropping a decision to Phil Davis in the main event of UFC Fight Night 24 earlier this year. He's finally taking on someone his age and experience level and he's hoping to capitalize.
Will we see one more "Gravedigger" celebration from "The People's Champ?" Can Nogueira stave off a potential pink slip with a huge victory against a UFC legend? What does each weathered warrior have to do to score a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 16-9-1 overall, 15-9-1 in the UFC
How he got here: Aside from one fight in 1998, Tito Ortiz has spent his entire career fighting in the UFC. He debuted at UFC 13 as an alternate, smashing his first opponent in 31 seconds before stepping in to battle Lion's Den fighter Guy Mezger in the finals, losing via guillotine choke.
Ortiz returned in 1999 and seemed unstoppable, defeating Ken Shamrock protege Jerry Bohlander and avenging his loss to Mezger to earn a shot against Frank Shamrock. He would fight valiantly but eventually tired and would lose the bout late in the fourth round.
When Shamrock retired after the fight, Ortiz fought and defeated Wanderlei Silva for the vacant belt. With the victory, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" would begin his reign of terror in the division which included five consecutive title defenses as he became the face of the promotion.
When Ortiz refused to fight Chuck Liddell for the title, he was offered a fight against the older and wiser Randy Couture. Seemingly overconfident, he was outwrestled and literally spanked while losing the belt to "The Natural." With a fight against Liddell now unavoidable for the number one contender position, the Team Punishment fighter would face his fears and be knocked out by "The Iceman" early in the second round.
An incensed Ortiz proceeded to go on a five fight winning streak, earning big wins over Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin and two against an aging Ken Shamrock along the way to earn one more shot at Liddell's belt. He put up a great fight and stood toe to toe with the champ for over two rounds but again would be stopped by punches, this time in the third.
This began a horrible stretch for the former champion, where he would suffer a series of injuries and proceeded to go 0-3-1 over the next four years. His name seemingly tarnished, Ortiz was given one last opportunity against top light heavyweight prospect Ryan Bader at UFC 132 and he stepped up in a big way, hearkening back to his old school style, he dropped Bader and proceeded to force a tapout in less than two minutes.
Ortiz tried to keep his momentum rolling against Rashad Evans at UFC 133, just one month later, but would be overwhelmed and would lose via second round TKO. He's ready for another tough challenge in Antonio Rogerio Nogueira this time around, a veteran who's been down on his luck lately.
How he gets it done: Ortiz seems to have put a serious effort into his striking with his last couple fights, but if he wants to win this bout, he needs to go back to his bread and butter which is his wrestling.
If you see Tito standing with Nogueira, it'll be most likely used to set up takedowns, as he's progressed in that department well enough that he can at least hold his own long enough to potentially create a weakness.
"The People's Champ" is a huge light heavyweight and if he can duck a Nogueira hook and get deep on a double leg, he should be powerful enough to put the Brazilian on the canvas and keep him there. As long as he avoids toying around in Nogueira's half guard, he shouldn't be swept. If he can create some space, Ortiz needs to immediately drop some big elbows and try to hurt his his opponent as much as possible with attacks on the ground.
If Ortiz can't put Nogueira on his back, he could try to utilize the clinch to wear on him and either tire him out or work some dirty boxing and punish him with short knees to the legs and body. Those blows could wear Nogueira out as the fight moves into the second and third round.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Record: 19-5 overall, 2-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Phil Davis (UFC Fight Night 24), Ryan Bader (UFC 119), Mauricio Rua (Pride Critical Countdown 2005)
How he got here: Being the brother of one of the greatest heavyweights in MMA history has its perks, and it didn't hurt if you're a very talented fighter as well. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was competing in Pride Fighting Championships in just his third professional bout and he would win his first seven fights in the promotion, scoring significant victories over Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson in the process.
He'd finally have his momentum halted by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in one of the most exciting back-and-forth battles of 2005 and then would fall victim to one of the biggest upsets of 2007 when he was knocked out by Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in just 23 seconds.
"Lil Nog" would get back on track, winning fights with Affliction, Sengoku and even Jungle Fights in Brazil before signing with the UFC and he would make a terrific first impression, knocking Luiz Cane senseless in less than two minutes with his southpaw boxing style.
After a controversial victory over Jason Brilz, Nogueira dropped two straight close decisions against tough undefeated (at the time) wrestling prospects Ryan Bader and Phil Davis. He was slated to take on Rich Franklin at UFC 133 but had to back out due to injury. He's now recuperated and ready for another veteran in Ortiz
How he gets it done: Nogueira's most obvious advantage against Ortiz will be his crisp technical boxing. He needs to do whatever it takes to keep this fight standing and stay in the pocket with the former UFC champion. Footwork will be key, and he can't put everything he's got into his strikes or he'll risk giving Ortiz an opportunity to take him down.
Look for Nogueira to keep circling with every strike he throws, avoiding getting cut off against the fence or giving Ortiz an opening to drive him forward into the cage or with a takedown attempt. If he can keep this fight in his world, he's going to be in very good shape.
If Ortiz takes him down, Nogueira has some of the best half guard play in all of MMA right now. His sweeps are terrific and all it takes is the slightest imbalance and he could reverse position against his veteran opponent. Don't be surprised if he allows Ortiz to pass to half guard just so he can be more active with his bottom game.
Since Ortiz is going to be bigger and stronger than him, if Nogueira sweeps or somehow gets to a neutral position, he'll likely pop back to his feet and go back to work with his striking.
Fight "X-Factor:" The biggest X-Factor to me is, how much do these veterans have left? Both Ortiz and Nogueira have slowed down since their prime, when they were considered two of the most dangerous light heavyweights on the planet. Ortiz showed a flash of his old self against Ryan Bader at UFC 132, but he was destroyed by a meaner and simply better fighter in Rashad Evans at UFC 133. With this being a battle of two veterans and with Tito having lost four of five and Nogueira having lost his last two in a row.
Both of these men still possess the inert talent that brought them to the top of the division, it will simply be a case of who's hungrier and healthier heading into this showdown.
Bottom Line: With Ortiz improving in his stand-up, there's a possibility that he chooses to strike with Nogueira for a while, at least to see how he hangs with the veteran. That could make for a very entertaining boxing match-up for a little bit. If the former "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" scores a takedown, he could be ferocious like his old school ground and pound self, or he could be considerably more conservative like he was in his second Forrest Griffin fight. This bout could be terrific or it could be a dud. It all depends on how much risk these two veterans are willing to take.
Who will come out on top at UFC 140? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!