History in the making: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira proves once and for all that jiu jitsu works

Esther Lin for MMA Fighting

"If you have any knowledge at all of jiu jitsu, it's just not going to work. If you literally have never heard of anything and have no idea what they're doing, okay, kind of like the first UFC, yeah jiu jitsu works. It's kind of like trickery, basically. If you have any idea about any of the tricks, it's just not going to work, unless you're a complete idiot and fall for it. Maybe I should re-phrase it and just say, jiu jitsu doesn't work on me." --Dave Herman, June 2011

Dave Herman was struggling to stay afloat in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight division.

Despite an impeccable record on the international mixed martial arts (MMA) scene, where the Indianan racked up a staggering 21 wins against just two losses, "Pee Wee" had been knocked out in consecutive fights by towering Dutch "Skyscraper," Stefan Struve, and then again by portly power puncher Roy Nelson.

Getting clocked by "Big Country" left him at just 1-2 inside the Octagon.

But the silver lining on his cloud of defeat was his submission defense. Herman had never been tapped in 25 professional fights and considered himself to be submission-proof. After all, if Jon-Olav Einemo -- who once defeated Roger Gracie in Abu Dhabi -- couldn't force his surrender, then no one could.

Especially not an aging Brazilian coming off a devastating arm injury.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was one of the bigger names to cross over from PRIDE FC, in the days following ZUFFA's hostile takeover. In fact, if a certain Russian "Emperor" hadn't made his way to "The Land of the Rising Sun," there's a strong chance "Minotauro" would have spent several years atop the 265-pound throne.

It was not to be.

To make matters worse, Nogueira was nearly put down by Heath Herring after making his way to the United States way back at UFC 73. But just like he did so many times throughout his storied combat sports career, "Big Nog" persevered, battled back, and took home the win.

The writing, however, was clearly on the wall.

Nogueira -- above all else -- was known for his durability. But in seven trips to the Octagon, the fading Brazilian had been knocked out twice before suffering his first submission defeat. And not just any submission, either, but the kind of medieval bone crunching that nearly ended his career.

"When I grabbed it and started cranking," opponent Frank Mir would later recall, "it just crushed like twisting a bag of potato chips."


Naturally, major surgery (metal plate + 16 screws) was required to repair his mangled wing and the rehabilitation process kept him on the sidelines for over 10 months. The promotion teased a fight against hulking Parisian Cheick Kongo, but ultimately settled on the struggling Herman.

"I'm not concerned about his jiu jitsu game because as we all know, jiu jitsu doesn't work," Herman declared just days before the fight. "I'm not worried about being submitted by Nogueira at all."

Their heavyweight showdown was scheduled to take place in the UFC 153 pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event on Oct. 13, 2013, inside the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not only did Nogueira have the homefield advantage, he had the motivation to prove he could still be competitive after nearly having his arm torn off.

And making "Pee Wee" eat crow was just an added bonus.

"This guy talk a lot of shit," Nogueira said in the build-up to their South American slugfest. "He's never been submitted? He never fought that level on the ground. I can be the first one to do it."

From our UFC 153 play-by-play:

Nogueira drops Herman with a left hook then dives on top of him! He's in side control and passes to full mount. Herman tries to buck but Nogueira is on top of him with both hooks in. Nogueira dives for an armbar and Herman has his arms locked together and he escapes the position. They scramble and get back to their feet. Nice straight left scores for Nogueira and he attempts a takedown but Herman is on top. Nogueira has double underhooks in his deep half guard and he's working for a sweep but Herman postures up and backs away. Nogueira dives in and lands with a nice left and right hand. He lands a heavy left hand and takes Herman down again. Nogueira passes to mount and he dives for an armbar again but Herman is defending. Herman tries to spin free and Herman flips over. Nogueira has the arm extended and Herman taps out!

After all that pre-fight trash talk, Dave Herman was forced to wave the white flag.

Nogueira was unable to make it two in a row after falling to Fabricio Werdum in their 2013 rematch, a submission loss that forced "Minotauro" back into surgery to repair ligament damage. After another lengthy layoff, he's back on the scene and ready for one last run at the division title.

Waiting for him will be Roy Nelson.

They'll do the deed in the UFC Fight Night 39 main event scheduled for tomorrow (April 11, 2014) inside Du Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, on a rare Friday afternoon fight card streamed only on the promotion's new "Fight Pass" digital network (results here). Will jiu jitsu work one last time for the aging legend?

We'll find out in less than 24 hours.

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