Tuesday, September 8, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis Part 5: Couture vs. Nogueira

Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

Prediction: Couture, Rd. 3 by T/KO

Result: Nogueira, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Decision

Finally, the main event!

Coming into this fight, Nogueira was looking for redemption, to make up for his rather poor performance against Frank Mir. Everyone thought it would be a great match up to see the best Pride submission heavyweight to tangle with the best UFC submission artist. However, an injured knee and a staph infection were apparently the reason he couldn’t deliver the performance we were all expecting. Coming into the main event in Oregon, Nogueira looked fit, he looked healthy, and he looked dangerous. Training with Cuba’s national boxing team drastically improved his hands, and he used his size and reach to significant advantage all throughout the fight. Randy kept looking to close the distance, but Nogueira kept him outside for the better part of the exchanges.

I can’t say for certain what Couture was looking for in this fight. He was relaxed, happy even. He’s said that at this stage in his life and his career, he’s fighting solely for the enjoyment of the sport. And after signing a new six-fight deal with the UFC, it looks like he’ll be doing it for quite a while in the future. It looked like Couture’s main objective was to take advantage of Nogueira’s (seemingly) limited stand-up game, similar to Frank Mir’s fight with the Brazilian. Unfortunately, Nogueira’s boxing looked incredible, even compared to Randy’s dangerous hands. Couture managed to break the range a few times to land hard shots to Nogueira’s head, but Minotauro took the hits without backing down. He went on to land several amazing combinations to Randy’s head and body, throwing a few leg kicks in for good measure.

When striking didn’t work, Couture took things to the cage with his legendary Greco-Roman clinch game. He got the better of Nogueira by pushing him up against the cage and using his dirty boxing to wear out the younger fighter, but this never happened after the first round. Nogueira sunk in a ridiculously tight D’arce choke earlier, but Randy managed to survive through it on what appears to be sheer willpower alone. However, it was not without its toll. By the second round, Randy’s clinches lasted only seconds before Nogueira shrugged him off and started firing punches. The fight went to the ground a few times, b

ut it’s hard to say if any fighter really initiated a takedown attempt. Early in the second round, Couture more or less fell into Nogueira’s guard, then was promptly swept and put on his back.

Nogueira landed some good ground-and-pound of his own, and was almost able to cinch in another choke, this time an arm-triangle. Randy defended it well, though, and managed to get to his feet once again.

In the third round, Nogueira knocked Couture down early with a strong right, then proceeded to dominate the wrestler on the ground with strikes. At one point I though the fight would be stopped, but Randy managed to hold on yet again. After an unbelievable amount of punishment, having his back taken, and defending a rear-naked choke, Couture somehow slipped into Nogueira’s guard, and proceeded to launch his final offensive. It wasn’t able to do much damage, but he did manage to land several hard elbows to the Brazilian’s head. I feel as though Couture should have been trying to pass to half-guard, where his damage potential would have been much higher, but he definitely looked too tired to think of it or execute the maneuver. At the last second, Nogueira swept him again, and the judges awarded him the fight.

Nogueira did prove his worth in the cage with a dominant victory over Couture, and you can bet that his next fight will draw on even larger crowds to witness his return to glory. A rematch with Mir, perhaps, or a title shot against the winner of Lesnar-Carwin. In either case, a healthy and well-rounded Minotauro is a force to be feared.

Couture, even in defeat, still looked incredible as a fighter, regardless of his age. After going toe-to-toe with a man-mountain like Brock, he held off a former Pride champion for three rounds, surviving through two dangerously close submissions and multiple power punches. While he may not feel the need to push for the belt, I’m sure that his fighting days are yet to be numbered, and I pity the opponent that decides to take him lightly.

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