Nogueira, despite a very disappointing loss to Frank Mir, has largely won over UFC fans since coming over from PRIDE. He survived a head kick from Heath Herring that would've KTFO'd most large mammals to go on and win a commanding decision win at UFC 73.
More importantly, at UFC 81, he became the first and possibly the only fighter to ever win a UFC title after holding a PRIDE championship belt.
He did this by beating former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia via a tasty reverse sweep to guillotine from guard for the finish.
That fight encapsulated the essence of Nogueira's appeal. After getting out-punched and battered by the much bigger Tim Sylvia for two rounds plus some change, Big Nog managed to shoot in, pull half-guard on Sylvia's right side, then he grabbed Tim's left leg, swept him and immediately got side mount. From there he baited Sylvia into trying to buck him off, quickly spun into north-south position, established an anaconda choke, then rolled under, locked in his guard and got the tap out.
It had everything PRIDE fans had come to expect from Nogueira over the course of his legendary career. He followed the same template to beat Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic, the very-formidable at the time Bob Sapp, and Mark Coleman. Sadly for Big Nog, he could never make the formula work against Fedor Emelianenko, but the combination of serviceable boxing, an iron chin and some of the most effective jiu jitsu in MMA history made Nogueira the second greatest heavyweight in MMA history.
Nogueira discusses some variations of the sweep he used on Sylvia in his book: "Mastering Mixed Martial Arts: The Guard" including the Underhook Reverse Sweep. In this instance, Nogueira has wrist control rather than an underhook, but the basic premise is the same: the attacker pulls in one direction to get the opponent to move in the other direction and then uses the opponent's own momentum to effect the sweep. As Luke Thomas described it to me:
Let's say you're using the underhook variation you want it so deep that its actually pushing him over so he overhooks to block you and you put downward pressure. Rather than resisting you take his momentum and roll behind yourself.
It's a sort of push pull, you push one direction, he resists and pushes back, you take his push back and pull him over and behind you. In this case, Nogueira's wrist control prevents Sylvia from posting out to prevent the sweep.
More on the move and how he pulled it off in the full entry, including animated gifs.
Photo via UFC.com
In the gif on the left, we see Nogueira shoot in and pull guard on Sylvia. It's really a thing of beauty and has nothing of the passivity that is sometimes associated with pulling guard. First Nog sets it up with a left jab. Sylvia reaches for Nogueira's head, I'm thinking because only a minute or so earlier, Nog had shot in high and tried to get Sylvia in a Thai Plum. This time he ducks under Sylvia's outstretched left arm instead.
By the time Sylvia digs for an underhook with his left arm in order to sprawl, Nogueira is already under his center of gravity and is transitioning from a double-leg takedown attempt into a guard pull. When Sylvia goes to push him back and sprawl out of the double-leg, Nog is already falling to his back. This creates the impression that Nog is moving at light speed while Tim is in slo-mo. Its because Nogueira is using Sylvia's own motion and momentum against him. Note also that while Nog is dropping back he releases Sylvia's right leg with his left arm and attacks it instead with both of his legs, thereby pulling half-guard. He also wraps his left arm around Sylvia's back in an effort to establish the "Octopus Guard". Sylvia is able to escape that disadvantageous position, but is still in Nog's half-guard twenty seconds later.
The gif on the right starts with Nogueira in half guard (both of his legs are wrapped around Sylvia's right leg). Note that Nogueira is shrimped over on his right side. This is critical in order for him to have any leverage to move Sylvia around. If you recall my post on Brock Lesnar vs Frank Mir, Lesnar did a great job of keeping Mir's hips flat in half-guard so Mir couldn't move at all.
Sylvia tries to stand up out of Nogueira's guard and Big Nog hooks his right arm around the back of Tim's knee. You can see Sylvia's weight collapse down as Nog's arm forces Sylvia's left knee to buckle and both Nog's legs put pressure on the back of his right knee.
From here, Nogueira rolls from his right side to his left and flips the inert Sylvia with him. He uses Sylvia's right knee as the fulcrum for the pivot and rolls over Tim's right shoulder. Then Nog posts up with his left arm to get Sylvia all the way down on his back, unhooks his legs and pops his right leg over Sylvia's right knee and voila -- he's got side mount.
On the left we have another angle of the same event. Note that the gif starts at 3:56 of the third round. Nogueira has control of both of Sylvia's wrists and his left knee is up around Sylvia's right shoulder and chin. This isn't as effective a control of Sylvia's posture as having an underhook or overhook around one of his shoulders, but nonetheless, makes it much harder for Sylvia to rain down blows from top position. Nogueira releases his grip with his right hand and throws a weak jab at Sylvia's face. This is a feint designed to get Sylvia to pull back and exposes his left knee for Nog's right arm to hook it. Note that he maintains his left wristlock until he already has Sylvia 3/4 of the way rolled over. This gives him a critical push/pull dynamic and allows him to move Sylvia's considerable mass.
From side mount, Nogueira has established an overhook by wrapping his right arm over Sylvia's left. From there he steps his left leg over Sylvia's head. Sylvia hip bumps to create space for an escape. Nogueira immediately wraps his left arm under Sylvia's neck, locks his hands together and drops to his left side with the guillotine choke locked on.
On the left we can see Nogueira wrap his legs around Sylvia's waist to get full guard position. Once he has control of Sylvia's head and hips, its a simple matter of leverage to apply the choke and get the tap out. Note at the end how Nog is rolling his hips to his right and turning his shoulders to his left to increase the tension and pressure on Sylvia's neck.