A Realistic Glimpse at Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's Future in the UFC

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has his hand raised in victory at UFC 134 in Rio after punching out Brendan Schaub. Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A consistent stereotype that men have lived through for generations is the notion that we never admit when we're wrong. My significant other and my friends' wives and girlfriends always marvel in triumph when I utter the words "I'm wrong". They snap mental pictures in their brains as if they just photographed a Sasquatch, giddy with excitement that a man admitted his idiotic statement was, in fact, idiotic.

The annoying part comes when in that same week, it happens again. "Oh. My. God. Did someone just admit they were wrong?". Yeah, you were right. The garbage bags were on sale for $2.99 instead of $3.99. Just stop it, ladies. 

I was wrong about Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on Saturday night at UFC 134. If you're a woman and your eyes are gaping wide open with your hand over your mouth as if someone just told you a new Twilight trilogy was in the making or the New Kids on the Block were coming to town, you're being ridiculous. I'm not right all the time. The legendary 'Minotauro' served up crow on Saturday night by knocking out Brendan Schaub, and I ate it happily.

In the aftermath, questions arose regarding the future of Nogueira in the UFC's heavyweight division. Sure, he looked fantastic in his return after a year-and-a-half layoff, and he had the movement of a much younger version of himself. But let's be realistic here. Nogueira is 35 years old, and he's a fighter who has taken an excessive amount of punishment over the years. Surgeries may have repaired his body for now, but we'll never see the Nogueira who dominated the PRIDE landscape again.

I don't want to look past the idea of Nogueira somehow finding a way into the title picture. If his teammate Junior dos Santos fails against Cain Velasquez at UFC 139 in November, the shallowness of the division makes a rematch possible down the road with a couple of wins, especially if we consider the history behind title shots in the UFC. At his age however, I think he's better off tying up loose ends and helping his teammates succeed versus looking for hardware.

Rematches with Frank Mir and Josh Barnett make the most sense. Nogueira vs. Barnett could serve as a high-profile bout on the main card of an event in Japan. Rumors are that the event may take place in the first quarter of 2012. If Nogueira wins there and Mir defeats Lesnar, assuming that fight happens, I wouldn't put it past the UFC to pit the two against one another in a number one contender bout. That is, however, under the assumption that Velasquez beats dos Santos. 

In the grand scheme of things, I don't see Nogueira miraculously climbing the ladder and proving that experience beats youth over and over again. I think he has a legitimate shot at beating Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, and even Brock Lesnar, but I'm not convinced he can deal with the power of an Alistair Overeem or Cain Velasquez. Being rocked and socked for an entire career isn't like taking small doses of poison in hopes of becoming immune. You never become immune to brain trauma. 

Nogueira's moment this past weekend was glorious. It was difficult not to see the joy and happiness in seeing a legendary fighter like "Minotauro" triumph against the odds. The notion that he's suddenly back in a dangerous one however, and I'm not convinced he won't meet a brutal demise attempting to make another title run at age 35. I think Nogueira's post-fight comments about focusing on his teammates is the right move right now. He isn't blinded by visions of grandeur. He's unselfishly thinking about how he can help Junior dos Santos win the title, and hopefully thinking about a way to retire on a high note in the next few years.

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