A little over a year ago, then-unknown Brazilian Jose Aldo spoiled the U.S. debut of Alexandre Franca Nogueira at WEC 34. Despite reigning over Shooto's 143-pound division for years and possessing twice the MMA experience of his countryman, the man known as "Pequeno" was no match for Aldo's aggressive pace and blistering hand speed. To add embarassment to injury -- and by "injury," I mean the gushing forehead wound Aldo opened up in the second round -- Nogueira was suspended by the California State Athletic Comission for 12 months following the bout after testing positive for the anabolic steroid Boldenone.
In the 15 months since, Aldo has made a name for himself as a Top 5 featherweight with four additional wins by TKO. He's set to challenge Mike Thomas Brown for the WEC's 145-pound title in November.
Nogueira returned to Brazil and hasn't fought since. In fact, he's hardly been heard from.
Speaking to journalist Marcelo Alonso on Monday, Nogueira confirmed recent rumors that he's planning a return not only to the fight game, but to the promotion in which he dominated until 2005. At Vale Tudo Japan '09 on October 30th, Nogueira will square off against current 143-pound ace "Lion" Takeshi Inoue in a non-title affair.
And unlike the Aldo fight, this time the man with one of the meanest guillotines in all of MMA says he's ready:
"I'm training hard three times a day to make this [time on the shelf] a positive thing for me. I'm ready to have a great fight and finally have the chance to fight for a title again... Takeshi is a complete fighter, he's very good at boxing and he controls the ring well. His hands are quick and he's got a good counter-attack. Truthfully, I don't see a lot of weak spots in his game... I'm going to exchange some shots with him and try to get it on the ground and get the guillotine," says the fighter, who's scored seven of his 13 victories with the maneuver.
Beyond the victory in Shooto, "Pequeno" dreams of avenging his last defeat, to Aldo.
"I faced him at WEC 34, a year ago, and I had serious personal problems, my head wasn't right. I'd like to face him again in good shape."
If a truly focused and hungry Nogueira shows up in October, I could foresee actual trouble for Inoue, who most recently defended in May against another Shooto legend, Rumina Sato. But after watching him look so truly hopeless against one of the "Featherweight 2.0" set in Aldo, one can't help but wonder if, at only 31, the division has already begun to pass "Pequeno" by.
I thought Jordan Breen put it well a few months back:
There can be no doubt that from 1999 to 2006, the featherweight division belonged to Nogueira and his trusty guillotine. However, Nogueira was essentially a killer whale in a kiddie pool.
Now we'll see how he does as the underdog.