When Roy Nelson fought Fabricio Werdum in 2012, there were parts of the fight where Nelson’s movements, slowed by a steady course of elbows and other incoming things, appeared to be underwater. Such was the discrepancy in speed between the Brazilian and Nelson, who at that time was still flirting with the idea of light heavyweight if he could only take some air out of that ponderous belly.
Now 37, Nelson hasn’t become a light heavyweight, or any speedier, or any less telegraphed in his intention of landing the right hand. And yet, in his heavyweight bout with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Abu Dhabi on Friday -- an Internet matinee for us here in the States -- he found himself in a mismatch. Nogueira simply had no answer for anything, much less the overhand right that Nelson walked around very deliberately landing on his chin for the three-and-a-half minutes it lasted.
The final shot was pretty brutal, even for those who’ve built up their immunities to sanctioned violence over the years. Big Nog, a tattered piñata hanging for the birthday boy with the Louisville Slugger, just sort of swayed in front of Nelson, who waved his left hand out there to set up the right. When Nelson landed it, the 6-foot-3 Nogueira fell straight back, and as he hit the ground his head, trailing behind the momentum of his falling frame, whipped into the canvas.
Down went the 37-year old Pride man-o’-war, whose chin at this point doesn’t have the threshold it once did, and whose own reflexes have slowed so that the threshold of his chin acts as the only story. Through his first 37 pro fights "Minotauro" had never been finished, and now in each of his last five losses he’s been knocked out, armbarred and kimura’d. The latter, which happened against Frank Mir at UFC 140 in Toronto, earned him a broken arm when he refused to tap. The thing just gave out as the crowd at the Air Canada Centre that night let up a collective groan.
It was ratchet-ratchet-(for god's sake just tap)-pop.
Given all that, do we really want to see Nogueira in one more fight before he limps off into that good night?
It’s a peeve of fighters (and some media) to let people (including media) dictate when they should hang up the gloves, but even in the fight game there are outbreaks of humanity. Watching Big Nog -- who for so long was so good and durable and dominant -- get worked like this is hard to stomach. We can talk about him "being a warrior" until we’re blue in the face, but at some point the warrior assurances feel like winking justification (or, you know, a collective fetish for martyrdom).
Not that Nogueira feels like he’s ready to stop actively competing in the cage.
Just hours after the knockout loss to Nelson, one of Nogueira’s managers, Jorge Guimaraes, told MMA Fighting that the old warhorse would like the chance to avenge his losses to Frank Mir before he retires. This has been kicked around since well before Nelson. The first time Nog lost to Mir at UFC 92 he hadn’t fully recovered from a staph infection, which accounted for the listlessness. The second time, he was working Mir real good until his arm was being disfigured to the fascination of a grossed out public.
How about a lucky third?
Personally speaking, that doesn’t sound like the most compelling trilogy fight. Mir himself has lost four straight and appears at this late stage a little shopworn himself. If the UFC doesn’t scoff at this, then there’s no reason to scoff at Matt Serra and Matt Hughes doing another fight, or any number of past-glories with vendettas to sort out.
But it’s not just that. It’s that Big Nog left it all in the cage at some point, and the Nogueira that showed up in Abu Dhabi with the homing device on his chin for Nelson’s right hand is never going to rediscover that former self. Besides, the former self was glorious enough. A one-time Pride and UFC champion, who fought the who’s who in MMA and beat so many -- those are things that will never get old, and never look worse in time.