UFC 110 Preview: The Main Card

Nogueira vs. Velasquez

Feb 20, 2010
The relationship between America and Australia has always been a bit one-sided. Americans were given the greatness of “Crocodile Dundee,” beer cans the size of small towns and the backdrop for the post-apocalyptic awesomeness of “Mad Max.” In return, Australians received the death and pestilence that comes with hosting a season of “The Real World.”

UFC 110 “Nogueira vs. Velasquez” looks to even the score this Saturday at the Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia, as the UFC sets its sights on the land Down Under.

An inter-generational heavyweight bout featuring Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and the unbeaten Cain Velasquez will headline the show and could shape the short- and long-term future of the division. More morsels of tasty violence back up the main event, as Wanderlei Silva boots up his middleweight run against Michael Bisping and undefeated super wrestler Ryan Bader steps into the deep end of the pool against Keith Jardine.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez

The Breakdown: Any way one looks at this fight, it comes down to how much Nogueira has left in his tank -- a tank that survived being spiked by Bob Sapp, grounded-and-pounded into figurative paste by Fedor Emelianenko and any other number of absurd beatings the Brazilian has absorbed.

Velasquez, however, should fear the Nogueira who handled Randy Couture at UFC 102. No one can deny Velasquez’s prodigious talent, but this fight represents his first foray into the big leagues of the heavyweight division, and his ground-and-pound-centric style puts him right in Nogueira’s wheelhouse -- the guard. Perhaps the most impressive part of Nogueira’s performance against Couture was that he not only neutralized the hall of famer in the guard but repeatedly swept him and strung together submission attempts. However, Couture is in the twilight of his career; Velasquez represents a bigger, younger and more dynamic challenge.

One skill that Velasquez possesses -- his deft guard passing at mid takedown -- will give Nogueira problems. Passing the Brazilian’s guard can be akin to escaping a Supermax prison, but Velasquez almost always positions himself to land past the guard when executing takedowns, and his fluid movement on the mat makes it difficult for his opponents to regain guard.

Should Velasquez go the ground-and-pound route, Nogueira will have to rely on his submission savvy, not only to regain guard but to work under the relentless pressure his quarry brings. Of course, Velasquez’s supreme wrestling gives him the luxury of choosing where the bout goes and when it goes there.

It has never been difficult to draw Nogueira into a striking match, and while Velasquez cannot straight-up outbox the Brazilian, he has proven nasty in close quarters. Nogueira’s reach and power make him a solid boxer, but he does not control range well, and his footwork has slowed considerably. That will give Velasquez plenty of opportunity to step inside and force “Minotauro” into a phone booth fight.

Nogueira has made a career out of taking everything his opponents can bring and turning the tables in the blink of an eye. Velasquez may have responded to every step up in competition the UFC has handed him, but nothing can prepare him for this test.

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The Bottom Line: This will be a strong fight, and neither fighter will dominate it. Nogueira will repeatedly clip Velasquez as he advances and will give him fits on the mat. Expect the American Kickboxing Academy product to respond by throwing the entire kitchen at the Brazilian jiu-jitsu demigod, in the clinch and from top control. A coin-flip decision goes to Velasquez, and the rest of the UFC heavyweight division will have someone new to worry about.
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