Antonio Rogerio Nogueira file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Ryan Bader
This fight is being billed as a sort of title eliminator match in the absurdly competitive light heavyweight division, but more than anything it’s a chance for both the UFC and fans to figure out exactly how good Bader and Nogueira really are. Both are coming off so-so performances that raised real questions about just how long either man can be expected to last in the grueling marathon that is earning a title shot.
For Nogueira the most obvious concern is his tendency to sleepwalk through long stretches of fights. It nearly cost him his fight with Jason Brilz, and Bader poses many of the same issues with the added dimension of being more athletic and a heavier hitter. For all the talk of Nogueira’s amateur wrestling background, his actual boxing skill is overrated and it’s his knee to the midsection that Bader needs to watch out for.
While Nogueira isn’t going to effortlessly 1-2 Bader out of the cage, it was troubling to see Bader struggle at times against Keith Jardine’s shopworn boxing game. The deciding factor in how he fares this time around basically comes down to who controls the distance. As long as Nogueira can work from afar and back Bader off with knees when he comes inside, the fight is a pretty straightforward proposition for him.
It’s if and when “Darth” closes the pocket that all of Nogueira’s flaws come into play. His timing in close quarters is mediocre, which results in lots of arm punches with no pop behind them. Even though Bader’s defense isn’t the best, as long as he doesn’t eat any clean counters on the way inside, he’ll win the exchanges based on power alone. This also leads to the other obvious advantage he holds over Nogueira -- his wrestling.
Brilz was hardly the first man to show some of the limitations inherent in Nogueira’s grappling. This is after all the light heavyweight division, which is known for as much as anything else the quality of capable wrestlers populating the division. Bader has a stout base and has shown flashes of ground-and-pound savvy that belie his youth in the sport.
Playing a deep half guard and working front headlock chokes has worked for Nogueira in the past because he’s mostly been spared taking on the very best the division has to offer. Despite being a behemoth of a light heavyweight, Bader is shockingly fluid on the mat and holds position with ease. When Nogueira does try to work a sweep or scramble for a submission, he’s going to find Bader difficult to move and far more willing to drop a fist in his face.
While the Nogueira brothers are revered for their toughness, Bader isn’t a guy you want taking clean shots at your chin. With the exception of sub-UFC competition and the notoriously southpaw vulnerable Luis Arthur Cane, it’s been a long while since Nogueira actually outclassed a world-class caliber fighter. The other factor to keep in mind is that Bader is still improving, and that’s something Nogueira can’t account for in training camp.
Beyond any expectations for improvement, the fact remains that Bader can easily take control of this fight as long as he fights with the slightest bit of strategy. I don’t expect him to come out throwing counter left hooks or hitting side control passes -- both techniques Nogueira leaves himself open to -- but he can use his power and top control in equal measure far easier than Nogueira can get any real offense going. There will be plenty of difficult moments on the way and some hearty post-fight debate is undoubtedly looming, but Bader will do just enough to take a decision win.