Most regard Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira as a pillar of the mixed martial arts world and one of the five greatest heavyweights of all-time.
“Minotauro” made his professional debut in 1999, won 19 of his first 21 fights -- a split decision loss to Dan Henderson and a draw with Tsuyoshi Kosaka were the only blips on the radar -- and captured the inaugural Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight title. Nogueira went on to fight a majority of his contemporaries, and though he arrived in the Ultimate Fighting Championship well past his prime, he nevertheless had an impact: He earned “Fight of the Night” bonuses in wins over Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture, a “Knockout of the Night” bonus against Brendan Schaub and a “Submission of the Night” bonus against Dave Herman. The Brazilian retired in 2015 with a career record of 34-10-1.
Nogueira’s prodigious submission skills and sneaky knockout power are the subjects of this installment of The Film Room:
Aside from an errant punch, a leg kick and a shot for a takedown, the entire Nogueira-Nate Schroeder match at World Extreme Fighting 7 on Oct. 9, 1999 took place on the ground. Clearly the superior grappler, “Minotauro” dominated Schroeder from top position after putting him on the mat. Schroeder tried a guillotine early in the first round, only to see the Brazilian pop his head free. Nogueira caught his counterpart trying to stand, locked an armbar in place and forced the tapout 1:52 into Round 1.
“Minotauro” entered a Universal Fighting-Arts Organization event on Aug. 8, 2002 in Tokyo with a nine-fight winning streak that included seven submissions. He was confronted by Grabaka’s Sanae Kikuta, a reigning Pancrase champion who had beaten Alexander Otsuka at Pride 20 three months earlier. Nogueira forced the fight to the ground with a slam, pounded on the Japanese standout, made a pass at an armbar and ultimately climbed to full mount. The second round saw “Minotauro” connect with a few knees to the body, catch a Kikuta low kick and counter with a right straight that resulted in a spectacular knockout 29 seconds into the frame.
On the heels of his surprising technical knockout loss to Frank Mir, Nogueira set his sights on Couture in the UFC 102 main event on Aug. 29, 2009. In a clash of true legends, “The Natural” engaged the Brazilian on the feet but found the going rough. Nogueira nearly knocked out the former two-division UFC champion with a four-punch burst and controlled much of the first round. Couture rebounded in the middle stanza, though he never managed to turn the corner completely. The two aging heavyweights entered the final round exhausted, as Nogueira scored another knockdown and dictated the exchanges on the ground. All three cageside judges scored it for “Minotauro,” awarding him 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 marks.