Two nostalgic match ups pairing old school domineers of the Pride and SEG era will supplement the headliner of UFC 140: Jones vs. Machida. In the first, Tito Ortiz will meet Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a light-heavyweight contest.
Credit seems to go to Mark Coleman as the pioneer of devastating ground strikes in MMA. Since the unified rules were yet to come about in his UFC tenure,"The Godfather of Ground and Pound" typically mashed foes from the top with savagely uncivilized headbutts and elbows were disallowed in Pride FC. For this reason, Ortiz deserves a mention for his violent effectiveness with punches and forearms, even from inside the guard without ever looking to pass. His trend of snapping down elbows with a twisting arc when the guard player got strong wrist control is a standard tactic today.
Throughout the UFC's ill-fated dark years when the infamous accusations of "human cockfighting" paralleled thirty-six states banning MMA, Ortiz was the longstanding champion in what was then the 199-pound middleweight division. In fact, "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" was such an influential poster-boy back then that many honored him as the integral lifeline for American cagefighting surviving extinction.
Around the same time and on the other side of the globe, Pride FC was picking up steam. After figuring out which was which and coming to terms with the mind-taxing cruelty of nearly identical names and nicknames, fans formed a strong allegiance to the twin brother duo of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Big Nog) and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Little Nog). Not only were they fluid and artful masters of submission, the siblings always had incredible heart and spirit, were consummate sportsmen and just oozed a disarmingly infectious charisma.
Sentimental reminiscing aside, this was a decade ago and Ortiz and Nogueira are now pining for relevancy. Little Nog is batting .500 in the UFC and coming off consecutive losses; Ortiz's victory over Ryan Bader was the only in his last five and his first since Ken Shamrock in 2006.
The beauty of it all is that, though in the waning stages of their careers, both of these old dogs can still bite.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Little Nog is a high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt (one of the rare few to submit Dan Henderson), a 2007 winner of the Pan Am Games and a two-time super-heavyweight boxing champion in Brazil (2006, 2007).
Of those vibrant credentials, it was latter he engaged to debut with a bang against fellow Brazilian Luiz Cane at UFC 106 (right). The stance and footwork of boxing, in its original form of the "sweet science", requires adjustments to MMA that inevitably dilute some the dazzle of jousting and parrying in the pocket with upper-body movement. Nogueira manages to retain some of those qualities.
Wrestling, Ortiz's specialty, has been the trade Nog's struggled with the most. Cane was willing to oblige him standing, but his other three adversaries found the bulk of their success with takedowns.
Nogueira bested Jason Brilz in a contentious split decision while Ryan Bader and Phil Davis racked up points with takedowns, the looming threat of which also kept Nogueira from squeezing the trigger freely in striking exchanges. What has to be tough for him to swallow is that Nogueira's takedown defense was well fortified with a strong rate of success.
Another way of looking at those numbers is that from the standpoint of stuffing takedowns -- which is listed right alongside achieving one in the control category of the rules -- Nog was able to stay afoot in 69% of the takedown battles against Bader and in 64% against Davis. Those are respectable numbers considering the caliber of wrestler he encountered. I'm not sure Ortiz can replicate their takedown prowess and I think he'll have his work cut out for him.
In a shocking upset few thought was possible, Ortiz hammered Bader in an early exchange and then pounced on a guillotine while Bader was still sweeping out the cobwebs.
There were two minute details that made this more than just a lucky punch or a random fluke. Ortiz had struggled to evolve beyond a one-dimensional wrestler, even though he'd definitely enhanced his striking and submission game over the years. The fact that Ortiz first brilliantly feinted with a level-drop to set up his strikes and then uncharacteristically dropped back to finish with a guillotine were promising signs.
For years we'd heard rumors that Ortiz was hiding a seriously under-rated BJJ game in the back closet but just preferred his wrestling competency. The first glimpse of this was the triangle choke he almost tapped Machida with and swarming Bader's neck was the next.
To the right is a slow-mo depiction of the blueprint for every grappler facing a striker. Ala Randleman vs. CroCop, what seemed a predictable strategy became an ideal ploy. Ortiz, when he does set up his shots, does so often with the left hook. You can see Bader pause to steady himself for a takedown and he's also late and low in defending with his left hand.
For as good of a wrestler as Tito is, we've seen him attempt (1) horribly telegraphed shots (2) from way too far outside (3) with absolutely no set up; three lacking variables that are imperative for success. Those are the kind of shots that I see Nogueira stuffing rather easily.
Ortiz's stand up has come a long way and I feel like he's still learning how to mesh it with his wrestling -- he seems to be in either one mode or the other rather than transitioning seamlessly back and forth. How he addresses that tonight should be the biggest factor.
It's not inconceivable for Ortiz to hurt Nog on the feet, but the odds do not favor him winning a pure striking match against a Brazilian championship boxer, nor do they if he gets locked in takedown mode and just shoots predictably from outside. However, if Ortiz can interchange smoothly back and forth between the two while maintaining his strong clinch presence, he has a great chance to win this fight.
We know Nog will bring a variety of combinations with good power and head movement, stable takedown defense and high level submissions, escapes and half-guard sweeps. This has been his consistent mode of operating where Ortiz will have to tweak his tendencies much more, and Tito has a habit of reverting to wrestling when eating leather on the feet.
My Prediction: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by TKO
Nog vs. Cane gif by Grappo
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com
Nogueira vs. Bader and Davis takedown stats via FightMetric.com