Few fighters are as beloved as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. | Photo: Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship returns with yet another international UFC Fight Pass event on Friday, this time from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The nine-bout card is headlined by a heavyweight clash between Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Neither fighter is in contention for a title, but the possibility of a haymaker knockout from “Big Country” or a Hail Mary submission from “Minotauro” makes this a scrap worth watching nonetheless. In addition, longtime Japanese standout Tatsuya Kawajiri looks to capture his second Octagon triumph against the well-traveled Clay Guida in the featherweight co-main event.
Here is a closer look at UFC Fight Night 40, with analysis and picks:
HeavyweightsAntonio Rodridgo Nogueira (34-8-1, 5-4 UFC) vs. Roy Nelson (19-9, 6-5 UFC)
The Matchup: After so many years and so many wars inside the cage, one has to wonder what keeps Nogueira going. Now 37 years old with an accomplished career behind him, “Minotauro” has little to prove in MMA. At this point, perhaps the only motivation the decorated Brazilian needs is love of sport. Nelson, meanwhile, saw his brief flirtation with title contention meet an abrupt end thanks to lopsided decision losses to Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier in his last two outings. Realistically, Nelson lacks the diversity and the gas tank to beat the heavyweight division’s best, but his portly frame and knockout power continue to make him a cult hero.
Despite their recent struggles, Nogueira and Nelson are often still regarded among the best 15 heavyweights in the world -- a testament to the lack of new talent infiltrating the division. Considering their popularity, it is hard to classify this as a do-or-die situation for the loser. However, the winner gets to retain some type of ranking relevance.
Although Nogueira has been lauded for his boxing skill over the years, standing and trading with “Big Country” is a sure recipe for disaster. This is partly because the Brazilian’s hands are somewhat overrated. Other than a nice jab, “Minotauro” leaves plenty to be desired on the feet: His footwork is slow, his head movement is lacking and he is consistently hittable. His only two career knockout losses have come within the last six years -- a sign that age and punishment are taking their toll.
Nelson is not going to reinvent the wheel with his standup, but he possesses a rare brand of knockout power that can put most anyone to sleep. The problem: Nelson’s ability to win via knockout usually expires within five minutes, as all but one of his victories in the Octagon have occurred inside of a round. After that, Nelson struggles with cardio issues, and while his overhand right remains willing in rounds two and three, he is often left swinging at air. This is not to say that Nelson is not capable of expanding his arsenal. He landed a nice three-punch combination to knock out Matt Mitrione at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale and will rely on one-two combinations to close distance when he is interested in forcing the clinch.
However, his greatest success has stemmed from the home run shot, so it is not difficult to see why he has fallen in love with it. To avoid being starched, Nogueira should look to tire out Nelson by moving into tie-up range and working dirty boxing against the fence. The former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder lacks the wrestling ability to land takedowns consistently, but he has proven repeatedly that he is crafty at getting the fight where he wants it on the ground. Nogueira’s willingness to work from half guard, where he is adept at sweeping into advantageous positions, works well against less-experienced grapplers, but Nelson is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. “Big Country” is not one to actively pursue submissions, but he can be suffocating from above when he elects to pursue that route.
The Pick: Seven of Nogueira’s last eight UFC bouts have ended inside the distance -- including all four defeats -- but his best chance at victory would be to drag Nelson into deep waters. All the wear and tear plus the deterioration of his skills make that a tall task. Nelson wins by KO or TKO within two rounds.
Next Fight » Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Clay Guida