Bloody Elbow Roundtable: The future of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Maxx Wolfson

Following a brutal KO loss to Roy Nelson, the Bloody Elbow roundtable debates Big Nog's future and whether it should be solely the fighter's responsibility to determine whether he/she should retire.

Mookie Alexander: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira nearly had his head knocked clean off of his shoulders by Roy Nelson, marking his first losing streak and his 3rd knockout loss in the UFC and 8th knockdown in his UFC career.

Understandably, many are calling for the PRIDE legend to retire after such a stiffening KO. Nogueira doesn't want to hang 'em up just yet, as he's asked for one more fight with Frank Mir, who knocked him out and broke his arm in their two fights.

It's a question that has an obvious answer based on Friday, but should Nogueira continue to fight? And extending beyond that, should a fighter have complete control over whether (s)he wants to hang up the gloves? This includes managers, teammates, and even the UFC, who essentially forced Chuck Liddell into retirement.

Brenda: I hate to make career decisions for anyone, but it's more than clear that Big Nog is not the fighter he once was. He has the name and reputation to continue his career as a trainer and coach, I see absolutely no reason for him to continue to subject himself to the damage associated with competing in the highest levels of the sport.

Ian Bain: I don't think anyone should be able to tell someone that they have to retire, however Nogueira is in a unique place compared to a lot of the veterans in that he already has a very successful coaching career. He has gyms around the world in places like Dubai and Zurich. He has achieved what he needed to achieve, I would hate to see him become a name for the likes of Jared Rosholt and Soa Palelei to beat.

Zane Simon: He'll retire when he feels like it's the right thing to do, whether those on the outside think that it's a good decision or not. I hope the people he trusts are telling him to take care of himself and pushing him as necessary. But, at the end of the day, he's an adult capable of making his own decisions and living his own life. I hope those decisions don't come back to haunt him, but I don't think he needs a life coach either.

Fraser Coffeen: The key figure you left off of the list of who should have control is the athletic commission. In theory, they should be the ones who are using their medical expertise to determine if a fighter can fight. I'm not a doctor myself, nor am I familiar with Nog's medical history, but I would like to think that the commissions will look carefully and make that determination. Of course, the incident in Wyoming makes it pretty clear that this is a pipe dream - numerous commissions are woefully inept, and though one of their primary concerns should be the safety of the fighter, they obviously don't know what they're doing in that area (Caveat: note that I said "numerous" commissions, not "all" commissions. Some do it right, but not enough of them to put it in their hands.)

And this is the ultimate problem. Anyone who SHOULD be trusted in this situation can't be. As a person who has trained just a tiny bit of Muay Thai myself, I am confident that if I wanted to take a fight and I was not ready, my coach would say no. Maybe Nog's coaches would do the same. But if he was determined, he'd fine someone willing to say yes. Same goes for the UFC - maybe Dana would say no. But if Nog was determined, he'd go somewhere else and find a company willing to say yes (I nominate RFA). So in the end, the buck has to stop somewhere, and that somewhere is the state AC's. They need to be fixed, and until they are, this issue will remain.

Fraser (in response to Zane): He doesn't need a life coach, but he needs a medical expert who will have the fortitude to do his job when the time comes.

Mookie: When you bring up the athletic commissions (which is a good point), are you suggesting the possibility of revoking one's license to fight?

Fraser: Mookie - yep. I'm saying once a fighter is no longer medically fit to fight, he should not be licensed to fight.

Anton Tabuena: That fight against Nelson was the most predictable main event bout for quite some time now, and seeing Nog lose to a very limited fighter was just sad to watch. As a fan, I would like to see him hang it up, but let's be honest here, because he probably wouldn't. Now if they're really gunning for a rematch against Mir, I wouldn't be too opposed to it because Nog wouldn't be in much danger health-wise as opposed to being a stepping stone for younger and faster heavyweights.

Nog is clearly over the hill, but Mir might just be on the exact same path. Some people don't remember, but prior to Nog's BJJ-mentality kicking in and costing him the fight, he was actually winning the striking battle and hurt Mir badly on that second bout. As long as he taps if placed in bad situations, he should be relatively "safer" against a guy like Mir, although I doubt it pushes through as it's a trilogy which absolutely makes no sense after the two brutal loses.

In a perfect world, Nog retires from MMA and maybe just have his competitive juices channeled to having an occasional Metamoris super-fight against the likes of Barnett or Fedor. We all know that's a long shot though, so I'm just going to hope he isn't fed to the heavy hitters in the UFC who can really do long term damage.

Zane: I agree with Fraser, and frankly I left out the ACs because I think they're kind of a useless reference point for functionality. But, in a perfect world, a fighter like Nogueira (who supposedly has serious vision problems as well) would simply be unable to get a license and the debate would be moot. Much like an aging NFL player, sooner or later nobody's offering you a contract anymore and you're retired whether you want to be or not. But, that just doesn't exist in MMA, and considering the global climate of the sport, probably never will.

And I also agree with Anton, at this point, the best I'd hope for if he doesn't think he's done, is proper handling. That he's not pushed into fights with hard hitting brawlers or young up and comers.

John Joe O'Regan: Nogueira finds himself in the tricky position which comes to all big-name fighters. He is in the twilight of a glorious career and sees the end approaching. He is physically past his best yet is still collecting the paychecks which came with his athletic prime. With retirement on the horizon, the fighter's mindset - in any kind of combat sport - can become one of trying to squeeze out as many big paydays as possible before the curtain comes down.

I would hate for Nogueira to become one of those fighters who is used to add a big-name win to the record of a younger fighter that an organization wants to push (thought that didn't go according to the UFC's plan in Brendan Schaub's case). If a Master's Division existed, it would be time for Nogueira to go there. It doesn't, and so I think Nogueira should give very careful consideration to his health rather than his wealth before deciding whether or not to continue fighting the world's premier heavyweights.

Dallas Winston: I didn't intend for this to be an ongoing theme with Big Nog, but I've always said that, as someone quite comfortable with my heterosexuality, I would want to give him a hug if I ever met him. I mean, hardcore Nog fans have been riding all the extreme ups and downs with him since the turn of the century. I look at him as such a kind and humble guy, like a big teddy bear, but a teddy bear with the uncanny ability to pretzel every limb of the human anatomy into incomprehensible shapes.

To me, that's not only the sentiment that captures why Big Nog is so cherished and beloved by MMA fans, but one cardinal example of what makes this sport so great. We've all had favorite fighters throughout our journey in MMA and I'm guessing that, like myself, many gravitated toward a certain fighter because they felt some kind of kinship or exceptional level of admiration and respect for he/she/them. It's why we might pick him to win against an obviously adverse match up, just because we'd rather ride with him, show our loyalty and accept being wrong on a prediction than adopt common sense and logic because it seems blasphemous.

From the outside looking in, I hate to see Nog go but I also hate to see him taking severe punishment, especially because much of his legacy is built upon being pile-drived head-first into the canvas by Sapp, booted around the ring like an empty tin can by CroCop, or wearing a cartoonish "Did I leave the iron on?" look after being head-kicked by Herring -- and then coming back to win each of those fights. It's refreshing to hear so many before me take the stance that it's not our place to decide or opine on such a personal topic, but I guess my point is that we wouldn't be talking about whether Nog should retire if we weren't genuinely concerned for the guy. I believe that's because he's made a strong, positive impact on all of us, and on the sport itself too, and we all just want what's best for him, whatever that may be.

Karim Zadan: While many pundits and fans seems to agree that it is not out decision, or even our right to decide whether Big Nog is fit to continue fighting, I disagree wholeheartedly. There is a fundamental responsibility that I believe we (fans, media, promoters, commissions) owe fighters, and that is to help them face the cold hard facts.

At this stage in Nogueira's career, only a selfish fan would want to see him continue fighting. I personally would rather live off the phenomenal memories from his PRIDE days than watch his next fight in fear of the long term consequences and the permanent damage it may cause.

We should not take a passive stance on the potential conseuqences of Nogueira fighting again. His decision is not only one that solely impacts him as a fighter, but also the entire sports, as any long term damage he sustains could leave an unwanted stain on MMA.

Tim Burke: I don't know what the hell you're all talking about. Big Nog is still the Pride champion, the UFC champion, and hasn't been defeated since the whole tractor trailer incident when he was 11. He's still fighting at a higher level that literally every single person in the world over 206 pounds. Retirement? Gods don't retire.

John Nash: Is it my place to determine if Anontio Rodrigo Nogueira should be allowed to continue fighting or not? Probably not. I don't have the medical background to make that kind of an assessment. But that also doesn't mean Big Nog should be allowed to fight merely because he wants to. We often deny fighters the right to make that choice when presented with evidence that it would be at too great of risk to their health. Thiago Alves, Stefan Struve, and Dan Hardy are all recent cases where someone was denied the right to fight because it was determined to be too risky.

There are also many fighters that in hindsight should not have been allowed to fight but tragically were. Boxer Frankie Leal should not have been allowed to fight Raul Hirares based on the punishment he took in his earlier fights. Almost everyone agrees that Gary Goodridge should have been forced to end his career much earlier than he did.

So while we allow people the right to participate in MMA bouts we also have imposed limits as to who can participate. The question is therefore degrees, at what point should someone be disqualified from being allowed to make that decision?

Study after study coming out now seems to show that not only are cumulative concussions bad for you, they become much more likely after each previous incident. After his first 37 professional fights in which Big Nog was never knocked out he has now been KOed 3 times in his last 8 fights. This seems like a good place to draw the line.

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