Two UFC heavyweights at very different places in their current careers will clash this Saturday night (Oct. 13, 2012) as former UFC and Pride Heavyweight Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira takes on athletic prospect Dave Herman in the co-main event of UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Nogueira is finally returning from an extended layoff due to breaking his arm badly against Frank Mir last December. It was a lengthy recovery and he had one comeback delayed already, but when an opening became available for the Rio card, he jumped at the opportunity to fight in his hometown.
Dave Herman started his UFC career fantastically with a huge "Fight of the Night" bonus earned in victory, but he's currently reeling from consecutive stoppage defeats. He most recently was put down by a huge right hand courtesy of Roy Nelson at UFC 146 and he's hoping to put that memory behind him by scoring the biggest victory of his young career.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
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 after having Frank Mir on the ropes last December, he was submitted for the first time in his lengthy career by the veteran.
Now after finally recovering, he's hoping to bounce back once again in his native Brazil.
How he gets it done: Nogueira looked much lighter on his feet against Brendan Schaub and Frank Mir than he had 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 Herman's big power strikes.
If he can stand and trade effectively with Herman, this fight becomes closer than it should be. Don't be surprised one bit to at least see if "Big Nog" tests his striking early, looking to see if he can get the better of the stand-up. 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 Team Quest fighter to the ground.
If he can take Herman to the ground, time is on his side as "Pee Wee" has faded in bouts. Look for him to try and advance position and add some ground and pound to his already dangerous ground arsenal. Ground strikes would have helped him in his last bout against Mir and I'm sure he's taken a lesson from that fight to bring into this one.
Record: 21-4 overall, 1-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Jon Olav Einemo (UFC 131), Ron Waterman (EliteXC: Return of the King), Yoshiro Nakao (WVR: Soul of Fight)
Key Losses: Roy Nelson (UFC 146), Stefan Struve (UFC on Fuel TV)
How he got here: Dave Herman made a name for himself by becoming one of MMA's top heavyweight prospects despite not taking the sport seriously or training hard for much of the first three years he competed. "Pee Wee" burst onto the scene in EliteXC, scoring three straight knockouts of MMA veterans Mario Rinaldi, Kerry Schall and Ron Waterman all inside the first six minutes.
Herman took his "no-train" attitude to Japan where he would lose to Choi Mu Bae after gassing early in the second round. The midwestern fighter would then take his game back stateside where he would go under contract with Bellator and become embroiled in a power struggle for his contract after failing to receive a second fight from the promotion for over a year.
Now training out of Team Quest, Herman made his UFC debut last summer against Jon Olav Einemo, winning "Fight of the Night" honors and scoring a second round TKO. After some drama with the Texas State Athletic Commission prevented him from fighting Mike Russow, he returned earlier this year against Stefan Struve, but was overwhelmed in the second round and stopped via strikes on the ground.
He returned against Roy Nelson at UFC 146 earlier this year but was obliterated by a classic "Big Country" right hand. Herman stepped up to fight Big Nog on short notice when the headlining bouts fell apart, but he's got a tall task ahead of him.
How he gets it done: Herman's has displayed significant power in his strikes throughout much of his career, but he really needs to shore up his defenses and his technique if he wants to take it to the next level.
He ate a ton of punches against Einemo and on the ground against Struve and it finally caught up to him against someone with some nasty one-punch KO power like Nelson. Herman has to throw hard without leaving himself exposed or he's going to have the exact same result against Nogueira.
"Pee Wee's" best shot at victory is to catch Nogueira with his power. He's going to have short window most likely so he can't afford to waste time. If he wants to win, he needs to blitz Nogueira, clip him with a big shot and then put him away before he even knew what happened.
If he screws around or gives "Big Nog" any opportunity to get comfortable in there, he's going to have a bad night.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be Nogueira's long layoff and recovery from his injury. He suffered a brutal broken arm against Mir and tried to come back to early for UFC 149 before having to back out. We all know he's tough, has overcome unimaginable adversity throughout his career and all that jazz, but Nogueira is still only human. He's now been knocked out and submitted for the first time in his career since joining the UFC and he's getting older and more vulnerable every time. If he came back too early, Herman could capitalize by landing a big blow and putting him down.
Bottom Line: Dave Herman's fights have all been entertaining whether he was winning a "Fight of the Night" or being on the receiving end of a fantastic knockout. Something wild usually happens when he steps into the cage. Nogueira is no stranger to post-fight awards, taking home multiple Fight of the Night awards and even a Knockout of the Night award against Schaub. This fight, while a mismatch in terms of experience and skill level, should be fun while it lasts.
Who will come out on top at UFC 153? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!