Newly-acquired light heavyweight fighter and PRIDE veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (18-3, 1-0 UFC) will step into the Octagon for the second time as he battles UFC veteran wrestler and late replacement Jason Brilz (18-2-1, 3-1 UFC) at UFC 114. Nogueira was scheduled to battle Forrest Griffin, but Griffin withdrew from the bout due to a shoulder injury sustained during training camp -- opening the door of opportunity for Jason Brilz to get on the fast track toward the upper-echelon of the division.
The hype surrounding Rogerio is very real in the hardcore section of the MMA fanbase. Once heralded with the same adjectives used to describe his famous brother, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Rogerio has come into his own at light heavyweight as a much more fleet-footed, technically sound striking version of his brother. Despite some losses during his PRIDE run, Rogerio has finished five of his last six opponents with his most recent victory over Luis Cane at UFC 106 putting him on the radar with casual fans.
Brilz has had far less intrigue surrounding him. Despite only losing two bouts in his twenty-one career fights, Brilz doesn't exactly have a style that's appealing to the raucous casual fanbase that wants to see knockouts. A former University of Nebraska-Omaha wrestler and Nebraska state wrestling champion, Brilz has been able to translate his base in wrestling to a successful part-time MMA career spanning the decade. Fighting mostly Miletich-molded fighters in the Midwest circuit, Brilz was able to finally gain UFC status in September of 2008, stopping prospect Brad Morris via TKO at UFN 15. He went on to defeat Tim Boetsch and Eric Schafer while dropping what some have called a controversial split decision to Eliot Marshall.
For most fans, this is an obvious mismatch when looking at the repertoire of skills each fighter possesses. The Nogueira name is synonymous with outstanding Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, but Rogerio's exploits in the boxing arena make him a double threat to all comers. His 2006 South American Games gold medal and 2007 Pan Am Games bronze medal in boxing definitely makes fighters think twice before standing with him, and Luis Cane found out the hard way at UFC 106 as Rogerio masterfully dodged punches and landed devastating counters.
Brilz doesn't offer a different gameplan that Nogueira hasn't seen before. In fact, Vladimir Matyushenko probably offered a much more dangerous challenge to Rogerio with better overall wrestling skills than Brilz. That fight ended with Nogueira knocking out the former IFL champion with a knee, and I fully expect Rogerio to be the better fighter here as well.
Of course, being the better fighter doesn't guarantee victory. We only need to go back to PRIDE 33 in which Rogerio was bombed by Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in what has been dubbed the biggest upset in MMA history to remind everyone of the unpredictability of the sport, and the fact that Nogueira was involved in that bout should keep him keen to Brilz's strengths.
Brilz has the outside chance of taking down Rogerio, neutralizing him from the top, and pounding on him on the way to a decision, but Rogerio's footwork and abilities on the ground definitely point to a more favorable outcome for him. I'll take Rogerio via TKO.