Two heavyweights going in different directions will collide this Saturday night (August 27, 2011) on the main card of UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as the fast-rising prospect Brendan Schaub takes on one of the all-time greats in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Brendan Schaub is currently riding a huge wave of momentum after four straight victories in the heavyweight division. He's caught some flack for calling out aging legends, but it's helped him rise to the top of the division. He's hoping to potentially earn a title shot with a victory over "Big Nog."
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is a former UFC and Pride heavyweight champion who's looking to bounce back after a tough run. He's gone 1-2 in his last three UFC fights and recently took 18 months off to rehabilitate several nagging injuries. He's hoping to halt Schaub's momentum in front of his hometown fans and become a player in the division again.
Will the upstart Schaub add another fading legend to his career resume? More importantly, does "Big Nog" have anything left in the tank? Which heavyweight will jump into the title picture with a huge victory on Saturday night?
Record: 8-1 overall, 4-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Roy Nelson (The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale)
How he got here: After playing football at Colorado, Brendan Schaub had a brief stint in the professional leagues, playing some arena football as well as spending time on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. When it became apparent he wasn't going to make it in football, "The Hybrid" turned to fighting.
After developing his skills in Colorado at the Grudge Training Center and winning his first four professional fights in less than four minutes combined, Schaub made his big debut on season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). Schaub impressively blasted his way to the finals, defeating eventual UFC competitors Marcus Jones and Jon Madsen via knockout in the process.
In the finals, his lack of experience would come into play as Roy Nelson made him crash and burn with a huge right hand that sent him to the canvas for his first career loss.
Schaub has since rebounded nicely, scoring easy first round knockouts against Chase Gormley and Chris Tuchscherer before being thrown to the big dogs. He handled former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga over the course of three rounds and followed it up with a devastating third round knockout of fading legend Mirco "Cro Cop" Filipovic in what had been a hotly contested bout.
Schaub called out former Pride and UFC heavyweight champion Nogueira afterwards and had his wish granted on the UFC 134 main card.
How he gets it done: As much as he's said that he's not afraid of going to the ground against Nogueira, that would be a really, really bad idea. "Minotauro" still has what is most likely the best submission game in the heavyweight division, at least in the UFC.
What Schaub really needs to do is try to strike with the Brazilian and land his huge right hand. "The Hybrid" has some massive power in his right hand that helped him earn three knockouts in his four UFC victories and he was incredibly close to knocking out Gonzaga in the first round of their fight as well.
The wisest plan of action would be to keep his distance from Nogueira, avoid the clinch or takedown attempts and wait for an opening to connect, similar to what Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez did in the past. "Big Nog's" chin isn't what it once was and Schaub is powerful enough to crack him.
If for some reason the fight goes to the ground, Schaub has two options: stay on top and look to land punishing ground and pound or immediately scramble back to his feet. Scrambling would be the safest plan of action as Schaub will the the more explosive fighter and will hopefully be able to get back to standing where he's got the biggest advantage.
Expect to see Schaub headhunting for a knockout from start to finish.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Record: 32-6-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 3-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 110), Frank Mir (UFC 92), Fedor Emelianenko 2x (Pride Shockwave 2004, Pride 25)
How he got here: Boy, where do we start? Despite being one of the greatest Brazilian fighters of all time and having competed in 40 bouts throughout his illustrious career, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has never fought in Brazil.
He first made an impact in the Japanese promotion "Rings," losing the promotions 16 man "King of Kings" tournament in the semifinals to Dan Henderson in a controversial split decision. He would get his revenge a year later, winning the tournament before making the jump to Pride Fighting Championships.
"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.
The king of the half guard has been on the shelf for the last 18 months recovering from a massive amount of surgeries to his knees and hips which he hopes will revitalize his career. His trek back to the top begins with Brendan Schaub.
How he gets it done: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will be slower, less powerful and less agile than his opponent in this upcoming fight and it would be wise if he took a page from Randy Couture's playbook. He'll need to cut off Schaub's escape routes in the Octagon and try to pin him along the fence to either work his clinch game or take the fight to the ground.
"Minotauro" is not a terrific wrestler, but he does have a black belt in judo so he just needs to find some leverage to take this fight to the ground. By getting in close, he also will be neutralizing Schaub's immense power and potentially providing openings to land short elbow strikes like the one Filipovic landed that busted "The Hybrid's" nose up pretty badly in his last fight.
Another strategy would be to use Schaub's confidence against him. It may just be pre-fight bluster, but the Grudge-trained fighter has stated that he's not afraid to go to the ground against Nogueira, so why not invite him? Don't be surprised to see "Big Nog" pull guard and challenge Schaub to come to the ground against him. If he chooses to do so, expect to see some crazy half guard sweep attempts and submissions to be flying from all over the place.
Inviting Schaub to the ground may be the best strategy of all because unlike Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum, "The Hybrid" may not be able to resist.
Fight "X-Factor:" There are two key "X-Factors" for this fight. The first is Nogueira's chin. "Big Nog" was known for his legendary ability to take a beating and keep on coming, but the accumulation of damage he's absorbed throughout his career has taken a tremendous toll on him and he's been knocked out in two of his last three fights. Brendan Schaub hits just as hard as Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez, so it will be vital for Nogueira to have improved his striking defense so as to not get tagged with a power strike.
The other factor is the surgeries Nogueira has had. He had knee surgery as well as two hip surgeries and he says that after over three years, he's finally fighting at 100%. Were all the injuries a major factor in his recent losses? Will Nogueira have an extra bounce in his step after allowing his body to finally rest and recover? That's something we'll have to wait and see come fight night.
Bottom Line: This bout is oozing with potential. If it stays standing, it'll be exciting. If it goes to the clinch, expect a huge tug of war there and if it goes to the ground, anything could happen. The easy pick would be to choose Branden Schaub via knockout, but Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has only ever been defeated by some of the best fighters either in MMA history or the current best of the modern age. There's no telling how much of a factor the huge Brazilian crowd or the pressure could play into this fight. Expect anything and everything.
Who will come out on top at UFC 134? Tell us your prediction in the comments below!