UFC 156 fight card: Rashad Evans vs Antonio Rogerio Nogueira preview

MMAmania.com has a complete preview for Saturday night's UFC 156 co-main event between light heavyweights Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. What's the key to victory for both men? Find out below.

Two long-time veteran light heavyweights will finally meet this Saturday night (Feb. 2, 2013) as Rashad Evans battles Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in the co-main event of UFC 156 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Evans has competed since losing a unanimous decision to former friend and teammate Jon Jones last April, the only fighter to go the distance with Jones since he made his run to become champion. "Suga" has hinted a potential move to middleweight and challenging Anderson Silva, but he'll have to get past Nogueira first before that's even a possibility.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira has had mixed results since moving to the UFC back in 2009. He's gone 3-2 while fighting irregularly, but is hoping that he can score by far his most significant victory inside the Octagon this Saturday night to potentially make a run towards the top of the division.

Will Evans secure his spot as one of the top dogs at both 205 and 185 pounds? Can Nogueira rise to the occasion and play spoiler? What's the key to victory for both men?

Rashad Evans

Record: 17-1-1 overall, 12-1-1 in the UFC

Key Wins: Quinton Jackson (UFC 114), Phil Davis (UFC on FOX 2), Forrest Griffin (UFC 92)

Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 145), Lyoto Machida (UFC 98)

How he got here: After a respectable career wrestling at Michigan State, Rashad Evans, under the wing of former UFC tournament champion Dan Severn, won his first five professional fights. This earned him an opportunity to compete on season two of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).

Despite fighting at a weight class heavier than normal, Evans tore through the heavyweights on the show, eventually working his way to the finale where he earned a split decision victory over the significantly larger Brad Imes to become The Ultimate Fighter season two champion.

After some less than dominant split and majority decision victories over Sam Hoger and Stephan Bonnar, Evans finally found his groove, earning a technical knockout (TKO) over Jason Lambert with ground and pound and then scoring one of the UFC's all time nastiest finishes with the head kick knockout of Sean Salmon.

Evans would go on to have his now infamous draw with Tito Ortiz and would follow it up by defeating Michael Bisping via decision, sending him to the middleweight division. The victory would earn "Suga" a number one contender match against former champion Chuck Liddell and one massive overhand right would change his life forever, flooring Liddell, earning "Knockout of the Year," and earning him his first title shot against champion Forrest Griffin.

After a shaky first couple rounds against Griffin at UFC 92, Evans took advantage of a slip, pounced and pummeled his way to victory to take the title and standing atop the division. His title reign would be short, though, halted by Lyoto Machida in his first defense just five months later.

Since losing the championship, Evans rebounded nicely by defeating Thiago Silva and "Rampage" Jackson via decision, but an ill-advised choice to sit on the sidelines and wait for Mauricio Rua's knee to recover cost him badly. After nine months of waiting, "Suga" injured his knee while training and had to watch teammate Jon Jones crush "Shogun" and win the belt he'd had his eyes on for over a year.

Evans rolled through both Tito Ortiz and Phil Davis to earn a shot at his now former teammate, but would lose a decision to "Bones" last April. Now, he's got a potential opportunity to drop to middleweight and take on Anderson Silva should be defeat Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.

How he gets it done: Evans' secret weapon ever since losing his title was going back to his roots in the wrestling department. He was able to utilize it very effectively against Thiago Silva, Quinton Jackson and even former national champion Phil Davis, although he stepped off the gas against Jones.

Evans can also back up his wrestling with power. His ferocious knockouts of Liddell, Salmon and his title victory over Griffin should be a testament to that.

Expect "Suga" to dance around Nogueira early, utilizing his speed and movement and looking to land the power. The key for Evans is to get Nogueira to second guess. He needs to throw his hands when Nogueira is expecting a takedown and then shoot when "Little Nog" is expecting punches.

If Rashad can take Nogueira down, he needs to not only keep him down, but also to try and score some damage with strikes. He should be cautious to avoid the half guard sweep, but as long as he does that, he should be able fine.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Record: 20-5 overall, 3-2 in the UFC

Key Wins: Tito Ortiz (UFC 140), Vladimir Matyushenko (Affliction: Day of Reckoning), Alistair Overeem 2x (Pride Critical Countdown Absolute, Pride 29)

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. After recuperating, he destroyed Tito Ortiz at UFC 140 and hasn't been heard from since, recovering from injuries in the interim.

Now, finally healthy, "Little Nog" is out for blood against Evans to try to really make his mark on the UFC's light heavyweight division.

How he gets it done: Nogueira's most obvious advantage against Evans 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 Evans 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 Evans 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 Evans 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 Evans to pass to half guard just so he can be more active with his bottom game.

Nogueira shouldn't waste time going for submissions against Evans, however. He should just try to escape back to his feet and then go right back to work with his striking, trying to make something happen. Evans gets rocked in many of his fights and it could very well happen here.

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