Former Pride FC Heavyweight kingpin, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, is set to take on multiple-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, Fabricio Werdum, in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 10, which is scheduled to go down this Saturday (June 8, 2013) at Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza, Brazil.
After going an incredible 31-4-1, which included winning both Pride FC and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) titles, consistency is no longer Nogueira's friend. In his last six fights, "Minotauro" has alternated wins and losses, either looking sharp or frail. His next fight, against the aforementioned Werdum, will give mixed martial arts (MMA) fans a clear look at how much fight the 37-year-old has left in his combat sports tank.
Indeed, does Nogueira still boast the MMA skills and ability to continue to be an elite fighter or has he deteriorated beyond repair?
Let's take a closer look:
Years of training at Brazilian Top Team and a few trips to Cuba have turned the jiu-jitsu-based Nogueira into a fairly technical boxer. Additionally, he's developed more power in his old age, having dropped his last three opponents.
Nogueira begins almost all of his combinations with a jab. However, unlike most fighters, his jab is not quick and doesn't snap. On the contrary, it lands with more of a thud and is a bit slower.
To land his jab, Nogueira will often counter his opponent by slipping their punches. Ducking down, almost as if he was going to the body, Nogueira can land a hard counter jab. Nogueira repeatedly countered the offense Brendan Schaub with this technique before knocking out "The Hybrid" cold.
Nogueira has always had a decent straight right hand, but has recently begun landing it with more power. He's stepping into the punch more and almost making it an overhand. These minor changes have resulted in Nogueira's knockout of Schaub, as well as when he knocked Frank Mir to the mat.
If "Minotauro" believes he has hurt his opponent, he will aggressively hunt him down. As he charges forward, he'll start throwing longer combinations, often mixing in hooks with both hands.
Over the course of his Pride FC career, Nogueira became famous for his chin and heart. These are very admirable traits, but to earn such recognition, he had to absorb a ton of punishment.
The reason Nogueira is so hittable is that he plods forward without moving his head. This means that it's easy to predict where his head will be and that he isn't fast enough to get out of the way of combinations. Nogueira's grit guarded him from this flaw for many years, but it cannot do so forever.
Nogueira has never had the most powerful shot nor the slickest takedown chaining. However, through sheer willpower, Nogueira has been able to get a majority of his opponents to the mat.
HIs most effective takedowns come from the clinch. In particular, Nogueira is very good at driving through his opponents with an outside trip once he achieves double underhooks. From the double underhooks position, Nogueira is easily able to control his opponents' hips and posture.
Throughout his career, Nogueira has been kept at the edge of his opponent's boxing range by superior strikers. When this happens, Nogueira resorts to his double leg takedown. It's far from perfect, but it's good enough to get the job done against most fighters.
When Nogueira fails a double leg takedown, his go-to move is the sit out. This move is still occasionally seen, but no other fighter has made a career out of it like Nogueira.
The purpose of the sit out is to escape the turtle position. After Nogueira would shoot, often on bigger, stronger opponents, he'd get stuck underneath them. To avoid this problem, Nogueira would grip his opponents' hand with one of his to control them and then kick their legs out. If it worked, Nogueira either ended up on the backs of his opponents or in side control.
Unfortunately, this is also the move that Mir countered by locking up a kimura.
Because of Nogueira's deep trust in his jiu-jitsu, he's never been afraid of winding up on his back. This means that his takedown defense has never really been tested, because he's not averse to fighting with his guard. However, one of his best takedown defense techniques is the anaconda choke, which he hit twice in a row in the 2004 Pride heavyweight grand prix.
Nogueira is a third-degree black belt under Ricardo De La Riva, a Pan-American champion, and a two-time world medalist at purple and brown belt. "Minotauro" is one of the most successful jiu-jitsu practitioners in the history of the sport and has demonstrated a diverse game.
One of the most important things to note about Nogueira's jiu-jitsu is that he's skilled at both sweeping and submitting. Many fighters are excellent at submissions but aren't even able to threaten with sweeps, which makes their attacks predictable. Nogueira, on the other hand, is excellent at both, so he can fluidly chain them together.
Nogueira's half guard sweeps are very well known. In fact, almost all of the fighters who train under Nogueira at Blackhouse have above average half guard attacks.
Whenever Nogueira is in half guard, he immediately gets the underhook and stays on his hip. These two things are key, as they allow "Minotauro" to either come up for a half guard sweep or throwing his opponent up to knock them off balance.
Another of Nogueira's favorite half guard techniques is to reach under his opponent's leg, the one not wrapped up by his own. From there, Nogueira will either attempt to roll his opponent over or transition to deep half. Deep half is where the fighter on the bottom is completely under his opponent, with at least one arm and both feet attached to one of his opponent's legs. From this position, it's easy to roll one's opponent or escape out the back door.
Nogueira's submission game is excellent from the bottom. He excels at chaining his submissions together and catching his opponent while he's preoccupied with the last attempt.
One of the biggest reasons Nogueira is so effective from the full guard is his grip strength. The Brazilian is famous for being able to hang onto his opponent's wrists and force them to try to out-grapple him. For an example of this, look at how he controls Tim Sylvia's wrist in the sweep that's posted above. Sylvia is a huge man and was in good shape at the time of their fight, controlling his wrist is not easy.
Nogueira is equally effective from the top position. He constantly hunts for chokes and is very aggressive when he sees an opportunity to wrench his opponent's arm.
One of Nogueira's best tricks is to bait his opponents' into submissions. Most of his opponents' are rightfully terrified of Nogueira's ground game, so they are constantly seeking a way to scramble out. Nogueira will allow them to start a scramble, but they're just falling into his trap. Examples of this include Nogueira's belly down armbar of Mirko Filipovic, who seconds earlier had tried to push Nogueira off of him from mount, and his guillotine of Tim Sylvia, whom he allowed to come up for a takedown from side control.
Nogueira has become famous for his will to win and has many Rocky-esque performances in his career. His ability to recover from damage to overwhelm his opponent late in the fight is second to none, and is the main reason he's so beloved.
Perhaps the most famous example of Nogueira's grit is his fight with mighty Bob Sapp. Before Sapp was throwing fights for money, he was out-striking kickboxing champions and destroying much smaller mixed martial artists. He was matched up with Nogueira after just two fights, and many expected the Brazilian to blast through him.
Instead, Nogueira was nearly killed when Sapp lifted him through the air and suplexed him on his neck. Rather than giving up like most rational people, Nogueira kept fighting. Repeatedly attempting his sit out, Nogueira eventually wore Sapp down and twisted an arm bar late in the fight.
Other fights, such as his championship bouts with Tim Sylvia and "Crocop," also demonstrate his heart. In both of these fights, Nogueira was beaten from pillar to posts for multiple rounds. Then, he finally succeeded in getting the fight to the ground and managed to pull out a submission victory.
Best chance for success
Nogueira needs to fight a perfect fight in order to defeat Werdum. As always, he essentially has two options: he can either attempt to out-box Werdum, or he can try to take him down and submit him.
In order to win, "Minotauro" needs to mix these game plans. Since an early knockout or submission win is very unlikely, Nogueira's only realistic way to win is by decision. In order to win a decision, Nogueira will have to grind Werdum into the fence while mixing in takedowns.
Nogueira has looked dangerous against the cage recently, pinning both Mir and Schaub before stepping away and knocking them out. If he can do the same against Werdum, he can tire "Vai Cavalo" and inflict damage. However, he must be very wary of Werdum's knees.
If Nogueira can tire Werdum, he will be able to hold his own on the ground. Assuming he can take down a tired Werdum, that means he can ride out rounds doing damage without expending much energy.
For Nogueira to win, he had to focus heavily on cardio in his training camp. If he didn't, he has very little chance against Werdum, barring an early finish.
Will Nogueira overcome one of the top heavyweights in the world, or will Werdum stomp on his career revival?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Werdum be sure to click here.