When we last left our heroes...Forgive me, but I must take a walk down nostalgia lane. When I first heard about Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, it was through the digital whispers of the Sherdog slums (.net I mean). I had been watching the UFC since its inception, but what is this...there's MMA somewhere else in the world? And the fighters are elite? Nonsense...wait...220lb Nog fought Bob Sapp?! Wait...who's Bob Sapp? THAT guy is Bob Sapp? Nog didn't get to bring in a weapon made of Valyrian steel? He won?!?
And thus my love affair with Pride (and pleasant introduction to his ringside soulmate, Eiko Koike) began. Nog is a singularly unique fighter. If it weren't for Fedor, it's Nog who would command our utmost respect and adulation. Instead, he still does...he just doesn't get all the once barely amusing cyborg jokes.
For newer fans who only got introduced to him through the UFC, he's a .500 fighter who is pretty entertaining. But for a time, Nog was the king.
And now here he is...fighting Roy Nelson, which surprisingly requires no sarcastic caveats. This is a good fight for Nog at this point in his career, but certainly his last should he lose.
As for "big country", it's hard to talk about him these days without referencing one of the many completely worthless exchanges between him and Dana White. For reasons not that hard to figure out, Dana has decided to make Roy his personal whipping boy, and to Roy's credit, hasn't backed down. I don't know what that says about this sport...how the president openly belittles the people he employs and sometimes the best way to stay relevant is to feed off it and reply in kind, but it is what the MMA gods have determined it is.
Of course, Roy is a good fighter so I don't mean to imply that only his mouth has been doing the work lately. He's 3-2 in his last five, and his last two losses were to Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic.
What both men can do: I always felt like even in his prime, Nog was a slightly better boxer than he was a grappler. Just look at his bout with Sergei Kharitonov in 2004: crisp exchanges between two then elite HW's who look like they'd still be all world even today. Obviously, grappling is what Nog was known for, and yes, he finished a lot of bouts with them, but to me it was his boxing that enabled everything to fall into place.
You still see remnants of it. While his reflexes have slowed, the mechanics are still there. He works his jab in consistent fashion, and throws combinations well. If you look at all of his fights after getting mind melted by Cain Velasquez, he's been sturdy on the feet in each of them. Obviously, the Schaub win sticks out the most and for good reason. Nog seems to develop slightly better power over the years. In Pride he could only ever boast a KO win over Sanae Kikuta. In the UFC he's had Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture, Brendan Schaub, Frank Mir and Dave Herman all get rattled at some point. Perhaps he's not too old for this shit after all.
Nelson has had an absolutely brutal UFC schedule. Somehow, he's withstood all the firepower Zuffa could throw at him, yet the only embarrassing blemish on his striking docket is a TKO loss to Andrei Arlovski (instead of going back to that awful standup, how about a special shoutout to Renallo and Frank for their awful commentary by virtue of not saying a word about it?). Nelson is a very good top control grappler, but he's fallen in love with the prodigious power in his right hand.
Like Henderson, it's not about being predictable. His opponents know he's gonna throw that right hand. But just like with Henderson, Nelson has mastered the art of timing.
What both men can't do: To be honest, this is the kind of bout that worries me from a 'concussions are serious business' in sports angle. Nog will be handsomely rewarded for this fight, and he's a consenting adult. Fine. But the point of these discussions are about tearing down previously held wisdom, and widdling the macho 'are you hurt or are you injured' culture. Maybe athletes will be more self aware moving forward.
Nelson will land that big right hand. Will Nog be able to take it? I personally don't think so. The best thing that could happen for Nog is for him to somehow land a takedown and grapple his way to victory, but I'm not prepared to say that Nog is a better grappler than Nelson. They're fairly equal in my book.
Unlike his Pride contemporaries, like Wanderlei and Shogun, Nog doesn't have the kind of power that can keep him in fights against solid competition. Nog won't be able to survive a Silva/Stann like exchange.
This is Nog's last hurrah. The best thing we can do is support his final days, and appreciate his metaphorical walk into the sunset.
Odds and ends: Nog at +135 is not a good bet. If the number were higher, sure...but not with this version of Nog.
In Fight Soundtrack: Because it gave me goosebumps the first time Nog came out to it..
Prediction: Roy Nelson by TKO, round 1.