Roy Nelson and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira are roughly the same age, but the miles in mixed martial arts was different and apparent in their main event bout at UFC Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday as Nelson landed a single-shot, walk-off knockout, first-round victory.
The Brazilian MMA legend looked good in the very early going, taking center cage early with Nelson swimming on the outside. Nogueira was active with the jab, but first blood was drawn by Nelson, as a cracking right hand sent Nogueira to the mat. Nelson followed up to finish him off, but the Brazilian recovered a bit, squared his body and tried to force a grappling exchange. Nelson, however, limp legged out of Nogueira's arms and legs to reset the fight on the feet.
Despite appearing somewhat disoriented, Nogueira went back to the jab once he returned to the standing position and the two exchanged a series of short punches, Nogueira landing with more frequency and Nelson with much force. In fact, it was another right hand that spelled the beginning of the end and sent Nogueira crumbling to the mat. Nelson again was reluctant to follow Nogueira to the ground and allowed the fight to return to the feet where he battered a visibly hurt Nogueira stumbling around the cage.
The final, crushing blow was landed as Nogueira lazily pumped his jab, which Nelson used to time a pulverizing overhand right that put Nogueira out cold.
The punch forced referee Leon Roberts to stop the action at 3:37 of round 1.
"I was just waiting because he kept on throwing the left hand, left hand. He has a hard head and then I was like, 'Ok, I have to throw the right hand'," Nelson told UFC commentator Dan Hardy in his post-fight interview.
"My goal was to get a takedown every per round, go five rounds, just kind of push the pace a little bit, but it just happened that my right hand landed first."
As for what it all means, Nelson expressed admiration for his opponent, but reiterated a desire to fight for the UFC heavyweight crown.
"If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be fighting in MMA," Nelson said of Nogueira. "I always want to fight for the belt, I don't really care. Let me jsut start right there. I'll work my way backwards."
The win brings Nelson's professional MMA record to 20-9 while Nogueira drops to 34-9-1 with 1 no-contest.