Two of the most dangerous Brazilian heavyweights in the world will collide for the second time tomorrow night (June 8, 2013) as veteran Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira takes on the ever-improving Fabricio Werdum in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 10 in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Both men originally met in Pride over seven years ago with Nogueira coming out on top. How will things be different this time around?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Record: 34-7-1 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
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 eventually 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 interim UFC heavyweight champion.
Since then, Nogueira has had many issues due to injuries, 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 but he couldn't keep his momentum, hurting Frank Mir in their rematch but getting submitted via brutal Kimura on the ground. "Big Nog" once again bounced back with a submission victory over Mr anti-jiu-jitsu Dave Herman.
After a lengthy time off to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Brazil season two opposite Fabricio Werdum, he's slated to face the Brazilian tomorrow night.
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 Werdum's dangerous Muay Thai.
What worked best for Nogueira in the original fight against Werdum was his overall striking in the pocket and his ability to stay on top inside Werdum's guard without getting swept or submitted. Those same factors should be at play here. While Werdum's striking has improved drastically, he's still not the best at mid range, which is where Nogueira still has that pop. He can definitely clip Werdum on the feet just like last time if he can make good use of proper range.
If the fight goes to the canvas, as long as Nogueira stays on top, that's what matters. He needs to utilize all that BJJ skill to keep a superior position, try to avoid getting swept and everything will be fine. Werdum still has a nasty guard, but it probably hasn't gotten that much better than it was when they met in Pride and he was at the top of his submission grappling prowess.
Record: 16-5-1 overall, 4-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Alistair Overeem (Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum), Junior dos Santos (UFC 90) Sergei Kharitonov (Pride 30)
How he got here: Fabricio Werdum competed all across the world to begin his professional career, from England to Morocco to Brazil, where he went undefeated in five fights. He then found himself in the Pride promotion where he consistently fought some of the best in the world like Aleksander Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and even recent UFC fighter Jon Olav Einemo.
After Pride was purchased by Zuffa, he was signed by the UFC and immediately stepped in against some of the top fighters in the promotion like Andrei Arlovski, Gabriel Gonzaga (again) and Brandon Vera. Two victories in a row had "Vai Cavalo" in title contention but he showed up flabby and out of shape when he was signed to welcome a UFC newcomer in Junior dos Santos and he paid for it dearly, getting knocked out by a nasty first round uppercut just 81 seconds into the fight.
Werdum was released from his contract and competed against two of the toughest non-UFC heavyweights in Antonio Silva and Fedor Emelianenko, scoring impressive victories over both fighters.
After the tremendous upset of Fedor, he took nearly a year off to have surgery on a nagging elbow injury and came up short in his return, losing a decision to Alistair Overeem in the quarterfinals of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
With Strikeforce disbanding its heavyweight division, the Brazilian submission specialist was brought over to the UFC once more and he made an immediate impact, thoroughly dismantling Roy Nelson over the course of three rounds. He folllowed that strong showing up by obliterating Mike Russow in Brazil.
He coached opposite "Big Nog" for TUF Brazil 2 and will have a chance to redeem himself tomorrow night.
How he gets it done: Fabricio Werdum is a talented and well-rounded fighter. He was able to utilize his striking and knees to defeat fighters like Gabriel Gonzaga and Antonio Silva and his Muay Thai was put on incredible display against Roy Nelson in his UFC return.
In the stand-up, the key for Werdum will be trying to get this fight into the clinch where he can work his strong knees. Nogueira is not as fast as he used to be and is very hittable on the feet, so I expect Werdum to be aggressive in the stand-up whether at distance with kicks or in the clinch. He should be looking to land big hooks, knees and elbows throughout the full 15 minutes.
Werdum's striking has really evolved as of late and his work with Rafael Cordeiro seems to have paid off. If he keeps up the aggression, he should have more than enough explosion, power and technique to connect with something solid against Nogueira. Nogueira was known for having one of the best chins in MMA, but even that has begun to fail him as of late. If Werdum can clip him with something solid, he can definitely not only win this rematch, but emphatically finish it.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 10? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!