The UFC returns to Indianapolis, Indiana on September 25 for UFC 119: Mir vs. Cro Cop. Along with head liners “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-8-2) and Frank Mir (13-5), Dana White and Joe Silva have provided us with stellar card filled with old dogs and new blood. Early in the night, undefeated Evan Dunham (10-0) will face grizzled vet “The Muscle Shark” Sean Sherk (33-4-1). In the co-main event, Arizona wrestler and TUF season eight winner “Darth” Ryan Bader (11-0) will face his first elite opponent when he steps into the Octagon against “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (18-3). Nogueira and Bader are both coming off lackluster victories over “The Dean of Mean” Keith Jardine (14-9-1) and “The Hitman” Jason Brilz (18-3-1) respectively and need strong showings to restore the faith the fans had in them. This fight is an interesting meeting between two men who both have serious questions to answer before they see the sunny side of possible title contention. For Bader, it’s “Is Ryan the real deal or just a replacement gatekeeper for Jardine?” For Rogerio it’s “Was he just a flash in the pan riding his brother’s coattails?” At First Glance: For all the attention that surrounds the Nogueira brothers for their submission skills, “Little Nog” is far more dangerous on his feet. His significant boxing experience makes it unlikely that Bader will be able to land a flash finish like he did against Jardine. The other side of that coin is true as well. Bader’s wrestling is on a completely different level than Nogueira’s and, unlike his twin brother, “Little Nog” doesn’t have the ground fighting to defeat Bader’s top control. The result is almost a pick-um bout as Bader knows he really needs to impress and no one is impressed by lay-n-pray, but he is smart enough to know that a bad win is preferable to a good loss.
Inside and Out: Nogueira has a decided edge on the feet. Like his brother, he is tougher than a coffin nail, making it unlikely Bader will finish him with a flash KO and Rogerio’s boxing abilities will make him a difficult target to being with. Bader’s biggest problem comes in the fact that, while he may be a far superior wrestler, Nog doesn’t have to out wrestle him. All Nog has to do is wrestle well enough to stay on his feet and the fight is his to lose. Bader is the more powerful, athletic competitor but Nogueira is more complete. If Nogueira can stop the takedown, he will win the fight.
The Wild Card: Bader’s biggest ally is his opponent. The X factor in this bout comes in the form of motivation. Bader comes into every fight with the drive of a man who has spent his entire life in personal competition be it football, wrestling, or MMA. Against a notorious slow starter like Rogerio, that is often all it takes to grab the W. If “Little Nog” takes nearly two rounds to get his game face on like he did against Brilz, Bader will make short work of him.
The Verdict: The question here is “Will Nogueira come out of the blocks ready to fight?” There is no way that Nogueira can beat a determined athlete and proven finisher like Bader if he enters the cage half-cocked. Its hard to see the tiger changing its stripes and UFC 119 will see the better overall fighter finished. Bader is simply not the kind of opponent who will allow a fighter to settle into his rhythm before giving it his all. Expect “Darth” to put an almost sleepy Rogerio on his back early and level the ground-n-pound that will propel his career into the upper echelons of the UFC light-heavyweight division. Bader by TKO in the First.