The UFC returns to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to bring the fans UFC 134, the second event the world’s largest MMA organization has held in South America. Headlining the card is UFC Middleweight Champion “The Spider” Anderson Silva (28-4) as he defends his belt against “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-5) and a rematch between two former light heavyweight champions in Forrest Griffin (18-6) and “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (19-5). The supporting cast for the card includes lightweights “The Real Deal” Ross Pearson (17-6-1) and Edson Barboza (8-0), and an opening fight between “Bahna” Luiz Cane (9-3) and Stanislav Nedkov (5-0) as well as a heavyweight tilt between TUF 10 alum “The Hybrid” Brendan Schaub (7-1) and the former PRIDE champion ”Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1). The bout is a huge step up in competition for Schaub and represents a new page in the career of “Big Nog” as well. The mix should provide an entertaining fight for the fans.
At First Glance: The match-up between “The Hybrid” and “Big Nog” is an interesting glance into the future of each fighter. Two very distinct paths are there for each man dependent on the outcome. For Schaub, a win over the legendary former UFC and PRIDE Heavyweight Champion would mark a milestone in his career, moving his name onto a very select list of top-level UFC heavyweights. A loss, by contrast, would mean another handful of bouts as a gatekeeper for the UFC that would likely carry Schaub into his 30s and out of his prime years. Nogueira has a far more daunting set of stakes. He is the last of the PRIDE super-elite heavyweights to remain relevant on the big stage as “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko (31-4) and “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-10) have fallen and “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (32-12) has been left in limbo following his withdrawal from the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. A loss to Schaub would be Nogueira’s third in four fights and would likely see him plummet into the depths of mediocrity as one of yesterday’s heroes. A win, however, would prove to the world that the former champion is still a force to be reckoned with in the division.
In Depth: The advantages on paper all rest firmly in the hands of the Brazilian. While Schaub is arguably the superior technical striker, he lacks the experience, ground game, and general grit and toughness of “Big Nog”. In 39 professional bouts, many of which were against top notch talent, Nogueira has been stopped just twice – both times by a former or current UFC champion. The talent he has faced over the past decade is head and shoulders above the men Schaub has faced and that also speaks to the level at which he is accustomed to fighting. On the mat, “Big Nog’s” guard is the stuff of legends and his skills as a boxer are considerable as well. Schaub doesn’t enter the cage without recourse though. He is a solid kickboxer with sharp leg kicks and an ability to seamlessly transition between the many facets of the MMA game. This makes him a fighter of a different kin than Nogueira’s previous opponents, most of whom were either one-dimensional or had a clear shift in posture and demeanor when switching between grappling and striking. Schaub also has a fair amount of power in both of his hands.
Wild Card: Nogueria had never before been KO’d or even stopped when he stepped into the cage with Frank Mir (15-5) at UFC 92 in December 2008. Since then, he has fought twice and been KO’d again once. While both of the fighters who have finished Nog have prodigious striking power in their punches, the question still remains about whether or not a decade of wars in the ring and the rough life preceding it have finally added up and caused “Big Nog’s” chin to go. If it has, Schaub will likely bury the former PRIDE star’s career in a shallow grave right next to “Cro Cop’s”.
The Verdict: Nogueira may have fallen on a few rough times in the Octagon recently but he is still far from done. Neither of his KO losses were the kind of gut wrenching flash KO that usually accompanies the descent into retirement for a fighter who has lost his ability to take a punch. Against Schaub, he will face a game if green opponent who will make all the mistakes that “Big Nog” has learned to recognize and capitalize over several years of putting new-blood heavyweights back in their place. Don’t expect Schaub to go quietly, just expect him to go. Nogueira via Submission (Rear Naked Choke), Round 2