Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira still has “it.” | Photo: Sherdog.com
On paper, it was a potentially grim tableau, but Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira showed why a tough veteran always has a chance to upset the apple cart in his stirring knockout of Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In the process, he provided the emotional apex of a perfect return to Brazil for the UFC, as he and fellow countrymen Anderson Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua scored important wins. What made Nogueira’s victory so special was that it came in his debut bout in Brazil, after a career in which he built a reputation as one of the toughest and most beloved fighters in the game. With MMA’s constant influx of fresh talent and engrossing prospects clawing their way up the mountain, when veterans like Nogueira do what he did at UFC 134, it reminds us of how inspiring sports can be.
The veteran versus the rising talent is an integral storyline to MMA -- and every combat sport. The ascending fighter gets the chance to test himself against a known commodity, one with the potential to present fresh problems and traps while theoretically possessing less vigor and ability than in the prime years that made him a star.
It is the basic life cycle of sport, but, in MMA, the unforgiving realities of an aging athlete leaves him with nowhere to hide.
The aging cornerback that can no longer keep up with fleet receivers, the old pitcher who has lost a couple feet off his once-venerated fastball and the once-respected baller who can no longer score, rebound or play defense are, in a way, subject to their own governing mechanisms. Yet, they are all preferable to being the veteran who gets dominated and often decimated on the big stage.
There is no coach trotting out to stop the match and pull him from the game because he is not performing effectively. Usually, the doctor and dejected cornermen are huddling to explain why the other guy is celebrating.
Sometimes, however, veterans like Nogueira defy the odds and remind us why an old dog deserves respect. It also lends a much-needed air of plausibility to matches like these, which -- much like Tito Ortiz’s submission of Ryan Bader at UFC 132 -- remind us why we watch. Sometimes, the fighter who has been written off is the most dangerous one to fight.
Jason Probst can be reached at [email protected] or twitter.com/jasonprobst.