I’m sure you all remember the earlier days of Jiu-Jitsu. The biggest selling point at the time was that a smaller man could defeat a bigger man using pure technique.
This was the first decade of MMA before BJJ hit the mainstream. Pre-berimbolo, pre-rashguards, pre-Danaher Death Squad. Moves back then were more basic and practical, and less flashy and sporty.
Outside of the Gracies, only a handful of fighters incorporated the art into their arsenal of weapons. One of them was Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, a heavyweight out of Bahia, Brazil, and the perfect embodiment of early 2000s jiu-jitsu. And that skill set was put to the test when he faced Bob Sapp at PRIDE Shockwave in 2002.
Now, mind you, Nogueira is not a small man. But at 6’2” and 240 pounds, he looked like a scrawny high school kid against the 6’5”, 329-pound Sapp. “The Beast” had weight, mass, and brute strength on his side. He made that known during the first five seconds when he tried to channel his inner Vader to attempt a powerbomb.
“Big Nog” was all about his jiu-jitsu. He relied on one-twos for his striking and shot in for takedowns with very little to no setups. Of course, he was very comfortable fighting off his back. But what he lacked in size and strength, he made up for in technique. (Just watch the sequence on this gif)
Nogueira’s face absorbed a lot of Sapp’s punches in the first round, but he stuck to his gameplan. He eventually won the final scramble in the second round before securing a classic armbar finish off side control.
Both men eventually had very different career paths after establishing themselves as two respected names in the sport, but here they are in their much younger, less battered competitive years.