Two former champions will meet once more in a rematch that's been three years in the making on Saturday night (December 10, 2011) as former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir takes on former Pride and UFC heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the co-main event of UFC 140.
Mir has been campaigning heavily to get back into the title picture, but there have been whispers ever since his victory over Nogueira the first time that he hadn't faced the real "Big Nog" because of a staph infection. This will be his opportunity to settle his critics return to contention all in one fell swoop.
Nogueira had been written off by many fans and pundits but he returned from well over a year away from the sport this past August to brutally knock out rising prospect Brendan Schaub to emphatically proclaim his return to elite heavyweight status. He's hoping for revenge against Frank Mir this weekend.
Will Mir prove the skeptics wrong and put "Big Nog" down for good? Does Nogueira have gas left in the tank for one more run at the belt? What has to go right for each veteran heavyweight for them to earn a victory on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
Record: 15-5 overall, 13-5 in the UFC
Key Losses: Brock Lesnar (UFC 100), Shane Carwin (UFC 111),
How he got here: Frank Mir was on a roll in his initial UFC run, culminating in a heavyweight title-winning performance against Tim Sylvia where he infamously broke "The Maine-iac's" arm with a first round armbar. Before he could defend his belt, Mir would get in a horrible motorcycle accident in which he broke his femur and tore multiple ligaments in his knee. He would be stripped of his title and returned to the Octagon more than 18 months later, a shell of his former self.
The brash fighter finally started to get back on track and scored one of the biggest wins of his career in Brock Lesnar's UFC debut, defeating the ex-WWE star via kneebar in the first round. The victory earned Mir an interim title shot against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira where the ex-champ showcased his newfound boxing skills to knock "Big Nog" out for the first time in his career.
The Mark Dellagrotte-trained fighter hasn't been able to string two wins together since, losing the rematch to Brock Lesnar and getting pummeled by Shane Carwin, while crushing both Cheick Kongo and Mirko Filipovic. Mir has been showcasing his striking more in recent fights and he's looking for one more run at the title. His last bout, a dominant decision against Roy Nelson continued his forward momentum and he can silence some of the critics with a big showing against Nogueira again.
How he gets it done: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Mir was able to destroy Nogueira the last time around with superior and more powerful boxing, it was kind of like his coming out party in the striking department where he took advantage of a slower Nogueira who wasn't using head movement whatsoever.
If Mir can keep this fight standing, he will be in a perfect position to continue to work his punching combinations that worked so well the last time. He's also got an underrated Muay Thai game as evidenced by his brutal third round knockout of Mirko Filipovic last year. He's more than capable of hanging with Nogueira in the stand-up or in the clinch.
What he likely doesn't want to do, even though he's comfortable on the canvas, is allow this to turn into a ground battle. The odds of Nogueira either catching something or sweeping him and working from top position just don't make it a smart tactical decision.
Frank Mir is a very intelligent fighter, so he'll do whatever it takes to keep this fight where he's got the best shot, and that's on the feet.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Record: 33-6-1 overall, 4-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 110), Frank Mir (UFC 92)
How he got here: Boy, where do we start? In 2001, "Minotauro" began a dominant seven fight run in Pride, winning the promotion's heavyweight title and avenging his earlier loss to Dan Henderson. He would lose his title to Fedor Emelianenko in a thrilling three round affair in which "The Last Emperor" stunned onlookers by showing no fear of Nogueira's deadly guard.
After five straight victories over top heavyweights like Mirko Filipovic, Ricco Rodriguez and Sergei Kharitonov, he would be granted a rematch against Emelianenko. The much-hyped fight would be cut short from an accidental headbutt resulting in a "No Contest", but Emelianenko would again defeat Nogueira the third time around, this time primarily keeping the fight standing.
After going 5-1 to close out his Pride career, Nogueira made his UFC debut, defeating Heath Herring for the third time in classic fashion, surviving a huge shot and coming back to win a decision. He would be granted an interim title shot with the victory against former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia and would again get rocked early but came back to score a submission victory and be crowned the UFC heavyweight champion.
Since then, Nogueira has had many issues, he's only fought three times in the last three and a half years, losing his title via technical knockout to Frank Mir, defeating Randy Couture in a thrilling battle and then getting destroyed via first round knockout by Cain Velasquez. He bounced back after a long layoff to knock out budding contender Brendan Schaub in front of his native Brazil at UFC 134 and he's looking to get back into the title picture with a victory on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Nogueira looked much lighter on his feet against Brendan Schaub than he has in years. He still takes shots in the stand-up, but perhaps now he actually has some of that old speed back to where he can utilize some footwork and get out of the way of Mir's big power strikes.
If he can stand and trade effectively with Mir, this fight becomes a complete crapshoot. Don't be surprised one bit to at least see if "Big Nog" tests his striking early, looking to see if he can hang with Mir. If he can, he's going to keep at it and either try to knock him out standing or potentially open up weaknesses in his takedown defense where he can get the former two-time champion to the ground.
If he can get Mir on the canvas, this could turn into a very interesting positional battle between two very skilled Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters.
Footwork and movement are key. If Nogueira can dance around a bit, he won't be that same slow, plodding, flat-footed fighter that Mir put away with ease the last time around. His chin may still have deteriorated, but by moving, he won't simply have to rely on being able to absorb punishment this time.
Fight "X-Factor:" The biggest X-Factor for this fight absolutely has to be the surgeries Nogueira has had and how much of a factor the staph infection was the last time they fought. Sure, Nogueira looked slow and was picked apart, but he also showcased little to no head movement, and that had nothing to do with a staph infection in his leg.
If Nogueira shows up all sprite and raring to go, he could potentially be a completely different fighter than the man Frank Mir knocked out in the second round. If there's little to no difference, then fans can likely expect a repeat performance.
Bottom Line: This is a terrific showdown between to of the most talented veteran heavyweights on the planet. There is much at stake as the winner gets thrust back into the heavyweight title picture, although Nogueira has already said he'll never fight Junior dos Santos. With the stakes this high, and with two men this skilled at all facets of the game, there is potential here for a very technical battle, perhaps something reminiscent of Nogueira's fight with Randy Couture. There's also potential for a huge stand-up war if Big Nog is lighter on his feet. Of course, the worst case scenario is just another dominant beatdown administered by Mir, but that's a risk fans will have to take. Regardless, it should be entertaining.
Who will come out on top at UFC 140? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!