Fans of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
headed into UFC 134
with a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because it would be great to see Big Nog back in the Octagon, and in front of his Brazilian fans for the first time. Dread because the last time Nogueira fought he got knocked cold, and it felt painfully likely that the same thing would happen this time, against the hard-hitting Brendan Schaub
But Nogueira proved on Saturday night that he has more left in the tank than many people were giving him credit for. Nogueira shrugged off a couple of hard punches from Schaub and then proceeded to show off some of the best striking he's ever demonstrated in his mixed martial arts career, picking his shots beautifully as he landed a short left jab, followed by a huge overhand right that buckled Schaub, then four more punches before a big left sent Schaub face-first into the canvas. One more hard punch on the ground and it was over.
Nogueira has won 20 fights by submission in his long and honorable mixed martial arts career, but this was just the third time he won a fight by knockout or TKO. Who saw this coming?
Schaub certainly didn't see it coming: After the fight he looked stunned, and he could be seen staring up at the big screens in the arena, wanting to get a better look so he could find out what hit him. This was a hard-punching Nogueira the likes of which we haven't seen in years.
So does that mean the Nogueira of old is back? No. Nogueira isn't ever going to be the fighter he was in Pride, when he could fight five times a year and put a hurting on anyone in the world not named Fedor Emelianenko
. At age 35, after 40 pro fights, Nogueira's body just isn't what it used to be, as he himself acknowledged in his post-fight comments: After first addressing the Brazilian fans in Portugese, Nogueira spoke in English about what he'd been through in his preparation for this fight.
"I just had three months and a half to train for this fight," Nogueira said. "I was injured -- a really bad injury. I had surgery in both hips and my knee. I just sacrificed because I've never fought at home. This was my fight No. 40. First time in Brazil. So I fight for them. Thanks a lot for bringing the UFC
Fight No. 40 won't go down as the greatest fight of Nogueira's career: Beating Schaub doesn't rank with Nogueira's greatest Pride wins (including Mark Coleman
, Bob Sapp
, Dan Henderson
, Ricco Rodriguez
, Mirko Cro Cop, Fabricio Werdum
and Josh Barnett), or even with his UFC wins over Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture.
But fight No. 40 was a wonderful opportunity for Nogueira's fans to be pleasantly surprised by what Nogueira still has left in him. One of the great heavyweights this sport has ever seen can still compete, after too many people had written him off.UFC 134 notes
-- Rousimar Palhares vs. Dan Miller was one of my favorite fights of the year so far. What an entertaining battle: It was a one-sided victory for Palhares, but Miller showed incredible heart in refusing to quit. Palhares' striking is consistently improving, and he's becoming a real force in the middleweight division.
-- Yves Jabouin, who won a split decision over Ian Loveland on the first fight of the undercard, is one of the most exciting strikers in the entire sport. He incorporates such a diverse mixture of striking -- side kicks, spinning back fists, flying knees -- into his game that he's always a complete pleasure to watch.UFC 134 quotes
-- "I was injured, I had surgery in both hips and my knee, but I sacrificed because I had never fought at home. I wanted to fight for them." -- an emotional Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira after beating Brendan Schaub. Good call
--When Joe Rogan couldn't make it to Rio, the UFC made a good call in putting Kenny Florian in the analyst's chair. Florian is articulate, quick on his feet and knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of other fighters. He'll have a job in the media when he's done fighting.Bad call
-- Referee Mario Yamasaki had not one, not two, but three stand-ups during the Yuri Alcantara-Felipe Arantes fight that I thought were too fast. I'm not sure what Yamasaki was thinking, but the mentality that a referee should stand the fighters up if they spend more than a few seconds on the canvas is dumb. The ground game is just as much a part of mixed martial arts as striking, and stand-ups should only happen when there's a true stalemate and no action at all on the ground. Yamasaki was way too quick on the draw, and he wasn't the only one: There were too many stand-ups in several undercard fights. The refereeing was a problem, and the UFC -- which chose its own referees to take down to Brazil -- can only blame itself, not the athletic commissions.Stock up
-- Erick Silva, the welterweight champion of Brazil's Jungle Fight promotion, made his UFC debut in style with a 40-second knockout of Luis Ramos. Silva's overhand right to Ramos's jaw was a spectacular punch, and there's not much doubt that Silva has a big UFC future ahead of him.Stock down
-- Spencer Fisher has put on some very good fights in his UFC career, but at age 35 he looks like he's starting to slow down, and his loss to Thiago Tavares drops his record over the last two years to 1-4. He might not be in the UFC much longer.Fight I want to see next
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. The UFC middleweight champion looked invincible once again in defeating Yushin Okami. There's only one man who ever made Silva look mortal in the UFC, and that's Sonnen. If Sonnen can get by Brian Stann in October, it'll be time for Sonnen to get a second chance.