Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s 10 Best Moments in MMA

Antonio Rodrigo NogueiraAnytime the man known as ‘Minotauro’ steps into the Octagon at this point, it’s hard not to look back on what may be the most accomplished career any heavyweight has had in the sport of MMA. Despite having the spectre of Fedor Emelianenko casting a shadow over a great deal of his career, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has established himself as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history, and he is certainly one of its most beloved. There will be enough material on MMA Oddsbreaker about Nogueira’s upcoming fight with Fabricio Werdum this week without adding another two cents in, so instead of looking ahead, this piece is going to take a scroll down the ample memory lane that Nogueira has cultivated in his 14-year, 43-fight career. Read on for my take on the 10 best moments from Nogueira’s career. ——————– 10. October 13th, 2012 – UFC 153 2nd Round Submission victory over Dave Herman In Nogueira’s most recent fight, the UFC seemed like they wanted to give the hometown crowd something to cheer about, and he did not disappoint. Leading up to the fight, Dave Herman had quipped that “Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work.” To that point in his career, he had been correct as the Team Quest heavyweight had never been submitted. Nobody can say that the MMA gods don’t have a sense of irony, however, as in the second round of their bout Nogueira locked in an armbar and forced the tap from Herman that seemed destined to come from the time the bout was initially announced. The Brazilian crowd was overjoyed as their hero had defended home soil for a second time in just over a year, once again in dramatic fashion. 9. April 25th & June 20th, 2004 – PRIDE 2004 HWGP Total Elimination & Critical Countdown Back-to-back Anaconda Choke victories over Hirotaka Yokoi & Heath Herring Susumu Nagao's PhotographBack in 2004, PRIDE was working through their annual grand prix tournament, this time in the heavyweight division and Nogueira was one of the early favorites as the division’s reigning interim champion (we’ll get to that). However, in the first round of the tournament he was given a relatively difficult matchup (especially compared with the likes of Giant Silva, Henry Miller, and some of the other tournament participants), as he was faced with undefeated Hirotaka Yokoi. Undeterred, Nogueira put Yokoi away with a submission that nobody had seen at the highest level of the sport before, the Anaconda Choke. It was impressive enough for him to pull this off once, but in his second round bout against Heath Herring he won with the exact same submission one more time. Those were just two stops on his way to an eventual rematch with Fedor Emelianenko, but they could not have been more impressive statements that ‘Minotauro’ was out to win the tournament and regain his title from the Russian. 8. September 10th & December 31st, 2006 – PRIDE 2006 OWGP Final Conflict & Shockwave 2006 Two-fight series with Josh Barnett Throughout his career Nogueira has fought many great fighters more than once. That list includes Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Frank Mir, Heath Herring, and as of Saturday, Fabricio Werdum. However, the most entertaining multiple-time foe for Nogueira has undoubtedly been Josh Barnett. In 2006, Nogueira and Barnett met in the semifinals of the PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix, with Barnett picking up the split decision win in a fight that started off as a technical battle on the feet, and then turned into one of the most entertaining Heavyweight grappling battles we’ve ever seen. Due to the tournament structure — which limited the bout to two rounds — and the razor-thin decision, fans were desperate with a rematch, and they wouldn’t have to wait long. Their second meeting at the end of 2006 showed off more of the striking game, but was equally entertaining and technical. This time, Nogueira was able to distance himself as the fight wore on with clean punches and excellent work inside with knees, and the judges awarded him a unanimous decision. With these two men putting on 35 minutes of the best Heavyweight MMA to grace the PRIDE ring or UFC cage, especially in such a short period of time, how could these bouts not make the list? Who knows, with Barnett now under contract with the UFC again, we may even get a chance to see a rubber match. 7. September 24th, 2001 – PRIDE 16 1st Round Submission victory over Mark Coleman Mark Coleman was one of the most dominant fighters in the early era of MMA. His mix of physicality and high-level wrestling was well beyond what most fighters were capable of dealing with around the turn of the millennium. After hitting a rough patch in the UFC, Coleman jumped over to PRIDE and proceeded to win the original PRIDE GP in 2000. Coleman was back on top of the MMA world and looked poised to stay there, but his second reign would be short-lived. Nogueira had only fought once in PRIDE prior to facing Coleman, but was matched up with the Grand Prix champion on the strength of his resume in RINGS. Six minutes into the fight, he shocked many in the MMA world by submitting the American with a triangle-armbar combination, eliciting one of the most memorable tapouts in MMA history and becoming the uncrowned PRIDE Heavyweight champion in the process. 6. August 29th, 2009 – UFC 102 Unanimous Decision victory over Randy Couture Nogueira CoutureExpectations weren’t particularly high for the UFC 102 bout between Nogueira and Couture. It was a bout that was made because it would have been a shame if the two legends never stepped into the same cage. Couture had just dropped the UFC Heavyweight title to Brock Lesnar, and Nogueira had just been stopped for the first time in his career by Frank Mir. These two were supposed to be on the way out, but somebody forgot to tell them. In what ended up being named 2009 Fight of the Year by some outlets, Nogueira and Couture dialed back the clock for the night and put on a phenomenal display of MMA. Nogueira was clearly the superior fighter, rocking Couture on multiple occasions and coming close to the submission as well, but Couture showed determination in spades and survived to the final bell. A great moment for both men, and another fight to add to Nogueira’s long list of memorable moments. 5. August 27th, 2011 – UFC 134 1st Round KO victory over Brendan Schaub This is all about context. Brendan Schaub isn’t a particularly accomplished fighter, so the fact that Nogueira beat him in itself wouldn’t garner it a spot on this list. It’s how and when Nogueira beat him that made this such a special moment. Despite being as beloved as he is in Brazil, this was Nogueira’s first professional MMA fight in his home country. It was also the UFC’s first trip back to Brazil in 13 years. Adding to that already dramatic backdrop, ‘Minotauro’ was returning from an 18-month layoff due to multiple serious injuries that required surgery. Much like prior to the Couture fight, the consensus was that the legend was done. The ovation for Nogueira entering the arena was deafening, and when Bruce Buffer announced him to the crowd it kicked up another notch. However, that was nothing compared to the celebration that ensued when Nogueira – who was as a big underdog as he had ever been in his UFC tenure – knocked Schaub out. I’m not sure the atmosphere surrounding this fight could ever be replicated, and I still get goosebumps watching it today. 4. February 2nd, 2008 – UFC 81 3rd Round Submission victory over Tim Sylvia to win Interim UFC Heavyweight Title Nogueira SylviaBack in 2008, many MMA fans were still immersed in the debate over which organization was better, the UFC or PRIDE. The interim title bout between Tim Sylvia and Nogueira had both camps represented, as Sylvia was the former UFC Heavyweight Champion, while Nogueira was a former PRIDE heavyweight titlist. This fight showcased the heart that Nogueira became known and loved for, as Sylvia rocked him badly in the first round, and Nogueira struggled to get both his striking and grappling going early. After getting the worst of the first 10 minutes, the tide turned in Nogueira’s favor as it has so many times in his career. He was able to initiate a scramble, get a hold of Sylvia’s neck, and forced the big man to tap. In doing so, he also became the first man to hold both a UFC and PRIDE title and cemented his legacy on both sides of the world. 3. November 3rd, 2001 – PRIDE 17 Unanimous Decision victory over Heath Herring to win inaugural PRIDE Heavyweight Title Quite simply one of the greatest heavyweight fights in MMA history. This bout stacks up with any that has taken place in a ring or cage. Not only that, but it determined the first ever PRIDE Heavyweight Champion. Everyone knew heading in how great Nogueira’s grappling was, but this was the first real taste of his boxing that we saw. For 20 minutes, Nogueira and Heath Herring traded strikes on the feet, and when they went to the ground, Herring was avoiding a constant stream of Nogueira submission attempts. In a time where MMA wasn’t nearly as evolved as it is today, these two men put on a fight at a tremendous pace that encompassed every aspect of the sport. It was a fitting fight to decide the organization’s inaugural champion, and set the tone for PRIDE’s heavyweight division for years to come. 2. August 28th, 2002 – PRIDE Shockwave 2nd Round Submission victory over Bob Sapp Indulge me for a second. Forget everything you know about Bob Sapp as of 2013. Back in 2002, he was a frightening man. He had destroyed his first two MMA opponents in under three minutes combined, was actually taking the sport seriously, and was a massive 350-pound athletic monster. At the original Shockwave, PRIDE and K-1 executives decided that Sapp should face Nogueira to see if the Heavyweight champion’s technique could overcome Sapp’s physical attributes. Early on, it didn’t look good for Nogueira. Sapp opened the fight by picking him up and dropping him on his head. The giant then proceeded to bash Nogueira from top position for the better part of the first round. As became the theme in his career, Nogueira endured this beating and outlasted Sapp. Four minutes into the second round, Nogueira submitted Sapp with an armbar, and his legend truly began to grow. 1. November 9th, 2003 – PRIDE 2003 MWGP Final Conflict 2nd Round Submission victory over Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic to win Interim PRIDE Heavyweight Title Nogueira Cro CopIn March 2003, Nogueira faced an upstart Russian named Fedor Emelianenko, who ended up taking his title. Injuries would prevent Fedor from defending the title, so an interim belt was created that would be contested between Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop, a converted K-1 star who had been knocking out nearly everyone en route to a nine-fight unbeaten streak to start his MMA career. Cro Cop possessed the deadliest striking in MMA, and surprisingly adept takedown defence for someone so new to the sport. He proved an incredibly tough task for Nogueira in the early part of their bout, stymieing all of the Brazilian’s takedown attempts and battering him on the feet. The Croatian even landed his patented left high kick to drop Nogueira at the end of the round. Once again, the second round proved a different story, as Nogueira was able to get the fight to the ground and quickly submit his opponent. ‘Minotauro’ was jubilant in victory – as few expected him to defeat Cro Cop, especially after the first round – and rightfully so, as in my eyes, this was his crowning achievement in MMA. ——————– Regardless of what may transpire this Saturday in Brazil, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is one of the truest legends of the sport and will leave us with some lasting memories befitting his status. Whether this is Nogueira’s last fight, or if he adds another 10 performances worthy of this list, I feel privileged to have witnessed the better part of his MMA career.

Written by Brad Taschuk

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