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Reflections on Antonio Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira Post UFC 102

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Randy_couture_vs_antonio_nogueira_2_medium I was one of the many who discounted his capability before the fight, but am now forced to eat crow this Monday morning. Fine by me, really. Couture vs. Nogueira was as much as about Nogueira redeeming himself as it was about recognizing Couture's diminished capacity to perform at the highest level. But, it is worth shining a little extra spotlight on the very laudable turnaround Nogueira was able to pull off Saturday night. Mike Chiappetta chimes in:

After Frank Mir knocked out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira last December, the whispers immediately started that Minotauro was done, that he was too slow and had taken too much damage over the years. Some even suggested that Nogueira, who was only 32 at the time, should retire.

Somehow, many of us forgot that his whole career -- his whole life, really -- has been about comebacks.

As a child, Nogueira almost died after being run over by a truck. He still bears the scars as a reminder. As an adult, he routinely takes a beating and finds a way to win. The guy has more sequels in him than the Harry Potter franchise. Sure, his hands aren't quite as quick as they were a few years ago, but his jiu-jitsu is still a loaded gun to respect and fear.

Will Nog ever capture another major title? Who knows, but Saturday night was a reminder to bet against him at your own risk.

Yahoo's Kevin Iole disagrees with me by contending age was no factor:

Nogueira was a little bit better than Couture in every aspect on Saturday, pounding out a unanimous decision in a rousing battle that was chosen as the show’s Fight of the Night. It was the second consecutive loss for Couture, but his age clearly wasn’t an issue. He was beaten on this night by a guy who was highly motivated to quiet his critics.

"I never worked in my life for a fight like I did for this one," Nogueira said. "I have a lot of respect for Randy. He’s been around for 12 years and fighting everyone and that’s why I trained a lot, so I could make a good show."

Nogueira looked like a beginner in his loss to Mir at UFC 92. He suffered from a staph infection and spent seven days in the hospital less than a month before the fight. On the day he got out, he tore the meniscus in his left knee.

The reason Nogueira is one of the most popular fighters in the history of mixed martial arts is that he’s the type of person who said nothing to anyone about his condition and came out and slugged with Mir as long as he was able to do so.

"He’s a very game, very durable guy," Couture said of Nogueira. "He has a great jab and he followed it with some pretty good right hands. I’m not terribly surprised he fought the way he did."

I am in no position to take away anything from Nogueira's performance. Judging by how well he fought on Saturday it's perfectly reasonable to suggest a younger Couture wouldn't necessarily have fared any better.

But I can't help noticing there is some obvious decline in Couture. The hook and straight punches Nogueira landed standing didn't have half the steam that Rizzo's had when he fought Couture yet did far more damage. Moreover, the reflexive speed I believed Couture had prior to the bout didn't really present itself. Couture's punches seemed slow to retract, which left him flat-footed and positionally right in front of Nogueira for a counter-attack.

Still, the massive upshot of the fight is impossible to ignore: a potential Nogueira vs. Lesnar fight now has legitimate intrigue and value in the UFC heavyweight division. And while Couture's best days are likely behind him, the carte blanche of opponents he can choose to face while he amasses even more deserving wealth is enough to console even the most disappointed fan.