Bader and Lil’ Nog inexplicably rematch for clear up the LHW rankings this November 19, 2016 at the Ginásio do Ibirapuera in São Paulo, Brazil.
One sentence summary:
David: There can be (read: should have been) only one.
Phil: It's the rematch you never knew you wanted, because you didn't, don't and shouldn't.
Record: Bader 21-5 Nogueira 22-7
Odds: Bader -345 Nogueria +325
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Bader has had a career he can be proud of, but a future he should be prepared for. As in, he’s an elite fighter in the division, but not championship caliber. Knocking out Latifi, while impressive, doesn’t exactly goad Dana into thinking Bader could fight high profile bouts at McGregorweight. The mere existence of this fight should be a metaphysical call to arms for Bader. The UFC is basically feeding him chicken bones at this point. No offense to Lil ‘Nog, of course.
Phil: Bader's ability to recover from brutal and humiliating defeats is matched only by his ability to generate them in the first place. It makes him a weirdly sympathetic figure, a kind of musclebound brotacular Sisyphus constantly pushing the boulder up the hill, only to trip and have it roll back over him on its way back down to the bottom. He picks himself up, dusts himself off, and gets back to it.
David: Pocket Nog has had a ridiculous strength of schedule over the last several years. It’s worth noting because he often gets lumped in with the scent of formaldehyde his brother wears. When in fact, Wee Nog is still fight spry. Of course, that just makes him as dangerous as your typical weapon of mass obstruction. Bader shouldn’t have too much trouble with Exiguous Nog.
Phil: Lil' Nog has had a strange up-down career in the UFC (mostly down). Everyone was blown away when he KOed the then-highly rated Luis Cane... but then he won a contentious decision over Jason Brilz. The Nog and Davis fights were dire, but since then all of his performances have been at least semi-respectable. Anthony Johnson is a murder machine at the moment, and there's been nothing quite as heart-sinking as his big brother's horrifying performance against Roy Nelson.
What’s at stake?
David: The same thing that’s at stake when your stoner buddy is looking underneath the car rug to fetch a roach the size of a caterpillar’s turd. It wasn’t technically a waste of time for that one last hit, but was it really worth it?
Phil: If Nog wins the Brazilian fans will be happy. That's it.
Where do they want it?
David: Like a select few, Bader has grown dramatically more efficient with attention to detail. He’s no longer the guy you remember backing up against Tito Ortiz, and getting knocked down by a push uppercut. Nor is he the guy getting dragged into the pool by Crazytown band member, Junie Browning.
Bader has a strong right hand but two key evolutions have allowed him to land it more often: 1) his ability to double up on his right hand with stronger mechanics and 2) his quiet ability to hunt for counters with his left. In addition to his raw core strength when fetching for double legs, he’s found himself in light heavyweight’s upper echelon.
Phil: Bader is a study in coachability, and his strategic evolution has genuinely been a pleasure to watch. You get the impression that if a trainer gives him something to learn, then he'll stick to it until it's down pat. Thus, his focus on keeping dominant foot position and circling out; his ability to follow the left with the right and the right with the takedown. The word to describe him is "textbook".
However, he's also one of those students who panics when called up in front of the class and asked to come up with something new. If he encounters something outside the range of his training, he's capable of genuinely shocking brainfarts. To his credit, he never loses the same way twice: I think he trains those situations out of himself. But a tactical, reactive genius he is most definitely not.
David: Since Nog’s loss to Sokoudjou (!) many many moons ago, he’s had four losses: Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Anthony Johnson, and Mauricio Rua (in a ridiculous war). Rogerio is pretty underappreciated, to be honest. It’s easy to kind of dismiss him as Nog’s less accomplished brother, but he’s been doing yeoman’s work in the light heavyweight division for years, and he’s done with a rudimentary but dynamic set of fight skills.
First off, yes, he did well at the Pan Ams in 2007. Second, not even K-1 champs have been perfect on the feet inside the octagon. It’s high time we rid ourselves of this notion that MMA doesn’t hinder or limit specialized skills in and of itself. Spatial awareness, geography, even mechanics all change once you transition from boxing to MMA. As such, Nog is a good boxer, but not a great one. He almost slaps his right hook, which always annoyed me even as a technique non-snob. What he has thanks to his background is a sense of timing. Nog is good at chambering his strikes when his proximity is threatened, or when he feels like he can threaten with proximity of his own. His grappling is a little anachronistic: good on the bottom, but not a great wrestler, nor a elite guard passer when in top control. However, it’s enough to respect at all times.
Phil: Although it seems hard to credit, Nog is in some ways a better technical fighter than he was when he came to the UFC. Not physically- he still looks like he was left out in the sun too long, and moves with a gingerly hint of wooden-ness that hints at his long injury history. Technically, however, he's undergone the kind of flattening out that it seems almost every long term veteran undergoes. He's no longer the dynamic offensive threat that he was, but he's become a much more consistent defensive fighter, specifically with respect to his wrestling. He's never had a deep sweep or return game, but his initial distance management and sprawl games are both much better than they used to be.
Probably his best trait is that he still seems to have some measure of durability. If he was like his big bro and combined a lack of speed with an inability to take shots, then this likely wouldn't last long. As it is, it still might not.
Insight from Past Fights
David: Well, the first fight was relatively recent, so there’s no reason to ignore it. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with Bader. His striking limitations were on full display even though he kind of rocked Nog at one point, but his wrestling came through in the end. This could either be a dominating win for Bader, or a more intense struggle. He seems intent on winning on the feet, and Nog had success with his ridiculous slap hook. Watch out for those knees too. Nog lands them like he’s trying to penetrate the sternum of Bader’s hologram three feet behind him.
Phil: Tito pretty much weeping with pain after Nog drove his patella under Tito's breastbone is one of those MMA moments which still makes me a bit queasy in retrospect.
The Cummins fight is one to take note of, I think: it proved that Rogerio isn't a default win for younger, more athletic wrestlers. I have no doubt that Bader can hit takedowns on him, but he'll have to set them up with his hands.
David: How many times will Bader stick his tongue out when he gets smashed? I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing, but I’m pretty sure impersonating Gene Simmons will only enrage Nog.
Phil: Bader seems like the kind of guy who might actually be thrown off by the Brazilian crowd. The last time he fought there was against Glover.
David: I’m so tempted to pick Nog. He’s better on the feet in a vacuum, but therein lies the rub. He won’t be able to dictate the pace as long as Bader is free to stick his tongue out and pop double legs. I expect it to look exactly like the last fight, prompting everyone to wonder why the UFC bothered to begin with. In fairness, while static at times, I actually enjoyed the first fight. Ryan Bader by Decision.
Phil: Nog's takedown defense is definitely improved, but the delta between Bader then and now is far greater than the one between Nog then and now. While Bader's chin and decision-making are always wild-cards, he's much faster at this stage in their careers, as well as being stronger and probably more offensively capable in pretty much every area. Think he recognizes his own flaws and plays it safe for Ryan Bader by unanimous decision.