Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweights Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are set to square off in the main event of UFC Fight Night 39 this Friday (April 11, 2014), airing live on Fight Pass from du Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Neither fighter brings much momentum into the bout. Nelson has lost two straight decisions to top-level competition in Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic at UFC 166 and UFC 161, respectively. "Big Country" will always be a fan favorite, but it appears the best heavyweights have caught on to his rather limited style that relies heavily on his thunderous right hand.
A well-traveled legend of mixed martial arts (MMA), Nogueira has fought sparingly in the last few years, most recently losing to a Fabricio Werdum armbar at UFC on Fuel TV 10 in June 2013. All told, "Big Nog" has lost four out of his past seven bouts, making this a must-win for the former Pride FC champion.
Heavyweight isn't exactly the most stacked division in UFC right now, but a loss will most likely spell the end for each aging combatant's run as a legitimate contender in UFC.
That's a dynamic that could make this fight very interesting. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Nelson vs. Nogueira:
Record: 19-9 overall, 6-5 UFC
Key Wins: Cheick Kongo (UFC 159), Stefan Struve (UFC Fight Night 21)
Key Losses: Daniel Cormier (UFC 166), Stipe Miocic (UFC 161), Fabricio Werdum (UFC 143), Frank Mir (UFC 130), Junior Dos Santos (UFC 117)
Keys to Victory: Despite having a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Nelson has failed to submit a foe since July 2006. However, he does have 12 knockout finishes in 13 wins since that day, and it's no secret that he's going to look to do the same to the iron-chinned Nogueira.
Problem is, Nelson's big overhand right has been finding its mark less and less in his recent downswing. To rebound against a top opponent like "Big Nog," Nelson needs to bring some unpredictability to the Octagon. Lumbering forward looking for one massive shot most likely won't work against Nogueira, who's only been finished by strikes twice in 44 total fights.
But taking down an all-world Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner isn't exactly the best recipe for success, either. Nelson has his hands full and will have to fight one of the smartest bouts of his UFC career to come out on top. Mixing up his strikes and avoiding any takedown attempts will be paramount for a "Big Country" rebound win.
He's never been submitted, but that hardly means he should throw caution to the wind and engage in a ground battle in Abu Dhabi. If he can find his rhythm and keep a high volume of accurate strikes in Nogueira's face without gassing, Nelson has a good chance to pick up a huge victory.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Record: 34-8-1(1) overall, 5-4 UFC
Key Wins: Randy Couture (UFC 102), Dan Henderson (Pride 24), Josh Barnett (Pride Shockwave 2006), Fabricio Werdum (Pride Critical Countdown Absolute), Mirko Filipovic (Pride Final Conflict 2003), Tim Sylvia (UFC 81)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (UFC on Fuel TV 10), Cain Velasquez (UFC 110), Fedor Emelianenko (Pride 25, Pride Shockwave 2004), Dan Henderson (Rings: King of Kings 1999 Final), Josh Barnett (Pride Final Conflict Absolute), Frank Mir (UFC 92, UFC 140)
Keys to Victory: It's hard to gauge exactly where Nogueira is at this stage in his illustrious career. Injuries and the lasting effects of many wars have begun to take their toll upon his body, but he still has the skill and experience to contend with all but the very best heavyweights in the world.
Against Nelson, it's obvious that he has to stay away from "Big Country's" go-to right hand. Circling to his left will do him no favors this Friday, but looking for some takedowns to disrupt Nelson's striking will.
Even if he can't submit the hard-as-nails Nelson, he can definitively score a ton of points by utilizing and maintaining advantageous positions on the mat. Nelson is far from a slouch on the ground, but it's highly doubtful he can outlast Nogueira if and when this fight hits the canvas.
"Big Nog" has shown dangerous striking recently as well, with his UFC 134 win over Brendan Schaub and his UFC 140 loss to Mir being examples. He nearly had Mir knocked out before the two time former champion reversed fortune with an unbelievable kimura to badly injure "Minotauro's" arm.
If he does choose to stand with Nelson, he'll need to avoid overcommitting, as it could easily have him staring up at the lights in an instant.
Nogueira needs a win in the worst way to prove he can still hang with the elite in UFC. He may have one run left in him, and defeating Nelson with authority is the only way he can get that started.
Bottom Line from Abu Dhabi: The bottom line for this fight is that each man is truly fighting for his relevancy. Both have a lot of experience, with the edge clearly going to Nogueira. Nelson has a leg up on the feet while Nogueira has amazing submission techniques, but the fight is actually quite evenly matched.
Both fighters know what's at stake at UFC Fight Night 39. A loss will relegate them to extreme gatekeeper status, something that Nelson and Nogueira definitely do not want after being in the limelight for so long.
Neither one will challenge for the title anytime soon, if ever. Still, a win here will go a long way in righting the wrongs that their recent performances have created. With both fighters proven finishers, this one could end in exciting fashion. Will it be on the feet or on the ground?
With drastic stakes on the line, this bout should be highly fueled by emotion. Nelson and Nogueira are normally calm challengers who have been through a lot, meaning they most likely won't let the pressure get to them.
Nelson has been thoroughly outclassed in his last two fights, but he was on a nice streak of knockouts prior to that. Nogueira, on the other hand, has been massively inconsistent in his UFC stint. While Nelson isn't near Fabricio Werdum's level, I do think he has enough power to give "Minotauro" trouble standing.
It should be a close one, but I'm giving the slight edge to Nelson.
Final Prediction: Nelson def. Nogueira via TKO