Preceding his Octagon debut against world class grappler Jon Olav Einemo, eccentric heavyweight Dave Herman ruffled many a feather by proclaiming: "I don't think Jiu Jitsu really even works." The slight shrug and quizzical smile during his delivery made it a comically memorable moment in the annals of pre-fight smack talk. To some, whether Herman was kidding or not, the barb was nothing short of malicious blasphemy.
To those who whispered a vengeful incantation to the MMA Gods, asking that they bring forth a heroic paladin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to right this terrible injustice ... your prayers have been answered.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, long considered the most elite submission grappler in MMA history, has been beckoned to oblige. And what better setting for the epic showdown than Brazil, the world headquarters of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? The veteran heavyweights square off in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday's UFC 153
When it comes to pure athleticism and raw potential, few in MMA can match Dave Herman (21-4). This is a guy who never wrestled in high school but posted a 28-9 record as a freshman and qualified for the NCAA Division 1 Championships as a sophomore at Indiana University. That is truly a unique and amazing accomplishment. Herman, who ignited his career with an undefeated 15-fight streak, also claims to have "compiled a professional record of 13-0 prior to joining a gym and training MMA." And it's just obvious from watching him perform that he's fueled almost solely by talent and instincts.
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While that speaks to Herman's unparalleled abilities, it might also be his downfall at the top level. A lack of finely polished technique, i.e. getting punched in the face too often, caused some trouble before his comeback TKO over Einemo, enabled the dominant position from which Stefan Struve pounded him out and was wholly responsible for Roy Nelson laying him out early in his last turn.
What makes this match up increasingly appealing is that Nogueira, aka "Big Nog," is known just as well for swallowing spoonfuls of leather as he is for summoning up unreal submissions. Additionally, Nogueira's viperous offense is dually powered by striking and submissions but he's not a dominant wrestler -- meaning he's ill equipped to out-perform a wrestling phenom like Herman, but must do so in order to fully impose his submission prowess.
Continued in the full entry.
The mixed and tumultuous bag of advantages here warrants a 3-Phase breakdown.
Free Movement/Striking Phase
This is by far the most intriguing aspect. Nogueira is a skilled boxer in the pocket with excellent combinations and timing. He rarely kicks or clinches and handles almost everything with his hands. His boxing style consists of wheeling hooks and uppercuts while bobbing and weaving rather than plugging straight punches from the fringe. Nogueira is definitely a rhythm striker who doesn't always get a bead on his opponent's tempo right away, but starts landing freely once he does.
Throughout his heyday in Pride, Nogueira was criticized for a lack of punching power despite his strong offensive fundamentals. He has 3 TKO victories in 40 fights that were infrequently spaced throughout his storied career, yet evidence to the contrary was issued in dropping Randy Couture and Frank Mir with punches and shellacking Brendan Schaub by TKO during his UFC run.
The sheer lunacy above is the gif that perfectly epitomizes Herman's personality and fighting style. I'm pretty sure strategy is a vague and hazy concept.
Herman is a spontaneous flow-fighter who goes out and tries to find his groove. I'd say he fights in a blind rage, but he's just too ... happy. He's nowhere close to a technically equipped fighter but his creative arsenal of kickboxing, unrelenting aggression and physical attributes have forgiven that -- in most cases. Herman's a threat from the fringe with front kicks (he rarely throws any roundhouses) or even jumping front kicks.
His front kicks, and even the occasional axe kick (an unorthodox tool that Herman's finished opponents with overseas), are distance weapons used like a jab to keep adversaries who prefer close-range combat -- like Nogueira does -- at a safe distance. Herman also arcs roundhouse kicks to the body and an inside leg kick, all with his left leg; he doesn't turn his hips into it to inflict massive damage, but it's a quickly released and effective tool when he's being pressed.
In the clinch Herman has a wicked array of knees. He'll grab the single collar tie and fire a quick knee before circling off the cage or snatch the Thai plum and get strong head control to unload a volley of knees, usually to the body. When he smells blood and commits to combinations, he can unreel his hands with devastating results. "Pee Wee" is pretty loose -- even a little sloppy -- with a lot of his offerings but he hits hard, he has amazing quickness for his size and he's not easy to put away.
When they're being offensive on the feet, Nogueira and Herman are both formidable strikers. They also share the flaw of having extremely porous defense and being easy to hit. Herman's most concerning tendency is to avoid incoming punches by shrinking his head straight back and away from them instead of using traditional head movement. This results in his head being stiff and straight with his chin sticking out; much like adjusting for a fighter who keeps retreating in a straight line, this makes it easier for the attacker to add extra depth to their strikes, take a step farther in the pocket and blast away.
Nogueira uses more head movement, bobbing and angles but still lets his hands drift away from his chin too often. Throughout his career, Nog's chin has been mythically resistant but the mileage is starting to add up quickly and he's much more vulnerable than he used to be.
Overall, Nogueira has the clear edge in technique and mechanics, but Herman balances things out with his power, athleticism and creativity. Since they both struggle defensively, I'm calling this section even.
Free Movement/Striking Advantage: Even
Neither fighter likes to spend too much time here. However, if Nogueira endeavors to work his submission game, the only other option besides clinching up is firing traditional takedowns from outside, which is not a tactic he's implemented consistently.
This is another reason why this match up is intriguing, as Herman's D1 wrestling background endows him with phenomenal takedown defense. At a strong and wide 6'5" with exceptional agility, Herman is a load to move around. Past opponents have been successful in distracting him with strikes before attacking his hips, ideally when he's against the cage and has nowhere to go.
Nogueira is not a poor takedown artist but it's his weakest offensive facet. The ability to ground Herman will be based more on the set up, intelligence and timing of Nogueira. Unless he catches Herman off guard, he'll be hard-pressed to out-muscle Herman, and this is one area where Herman has stellar technique.
Clinch Advantage: Herman
Well, this one's a little easier. Before Nogueira was submitted by Mir, he was the consensus #1 submission grappler in the heavyweight division; or at least high-ranked along with Mir and Fabricio Werdum. Nogueira has -- barnone -- the best sweeps in MMA and he's reversed almost everyone who's been on top of him.
Despite Herman's quip about BJJ's effectiveness, he's not clueless in that department by any means, as evinced by the leg lock he transitions to after flopping with the spinning kick in the gif above or his impressive omoplata win in Bellator.
All of Herman's BJJ knowledge and resources should be dedicated to creating a scramble and/or escaping immediately if he finds himself entangled with Nogueira on the mat.
Grappling Advantage: Nogueira
These are my two favorite heavyweights so I'm not thrilled that one has to lose. Perhaps it's my Pee Wee bias, but I see this as much more competitive than the landslide betting odds for Big Nog would indicate. Herman can't hang with Nogueira on the ground but his excellent wrestling will make that a challenging scenario for Nogueira. On the feet, which seems to be the area that will decide this fight, I see them as fairly equal: Big Nog's skill and fundamentals are superior but his propensity to take excessive punishment does not bode well against Herman's power.
The things keeping me from siding with Herman are his ho-hum distractedness and Nogueira's inimitable heart and determination. Though both can take a lick, much of Nogueira's aura is constructed from his uncanny knack for finding a way to win when he's on the brink of defeat. Herman has that trait too, but hasn't demonstrated it at the top level as convincingly as Nog.
I'll conform with the crowd and take Nogueira with the disclaimer that Herman is well worth a look as the +360 underdog. If Herman keeps the fight standing, which is a very likely possibility, this is anyone's fight and, in any sense, this has the potential to be an indelible, back-and-forth slug-fest.
My Prediction: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by submission.