There will be no fancy setups, no easing into the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to Rogerio Nogueira’s UFC 156 co-main event against Rashad Evans this Saturday in Las Vegas. So let’s just get to it.
In Nogueira’s five fight UFC career, his worst three performances – losses to Ryan Bader and Phil Davis and a controversial split decision win over Jason Brilz – all came against wrestlers. Evans is a wrestler. Will it be déjà vu for “Lil’ Nog” this weekend?
“I have great possibilities ahead of me and I am a complete fighter,” said Nogueira. “I have good boxing and I have greatly improved my wrestling. I’ve worked on getting more takedowns as well as defending against them, and my jiu-jitsu is one of the best in the game. I have big possibilities ahead and I see myself as the future champion.”
So that’s that, at least as far as Nogueira is concerned, and you’ve got to assume that after those aforementioned performances, the Brazilian’s team (which includes his brother, the legendary “Minotauro” Nogueira) made sure they addressed anything that would keep him from reaching the top of the UFC’s light heavyweight division, and his most recent bout, a UFC 140 TKO of Tito Ortiz did see him showing his most impressive form since his 2009 Octagon debut against Luiz Cane. And yeah, Ortiz is a wrestler. Maybe not in his prime anymore, but still a fighter who looks for takedowns and ground attacks to win his fights.
Yet it begs the question, is Evans still that kind of fighter? Sure, he used his ground attack to defeat heavy-handed Thiago Silva and Rampage Jackson, but his standup game was on display in his notable wins over Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. So which version of Evans shows up this weekend? Nogueira may expect the groundfighting one, but he’s well aware of the standup “Suga” as well.
“The key to winning against Rashad is to stay focused and not get distracted by his feints,” said Nogueira. “Just do my game, focus more on my game and that will be the big difference.”
The fight will be Nogueira’s first in nearly 14 months due to knee surgery, and just like his brother returned after a lengthy layoff due to injury to win two of his last three, the light heavyweight representative in the family business is just as confident that the best is yet to come now that he’s healthy and ready to use all his tools.
Unfortunately, UFC fans have only caught glimpses of what Nogueira can do, most notably in the Cane and Ortiz fights. But for a true look at how good the 36-year-old is, go back to his days in PRIDE, where he defeated Alistair Overeem (twice), Kazushi Sakuraba, and Dan Henderson, and engaged in one of MMA’s greatest all-time fights against “Shogun” Rua. You may call that ancient history, but many believe that a healthy Nogueira can put together performances like that, and no one is invested in that idea more than the Bahia native, who knows that a big win – not just a win – will resurrect his title hopes immediately.
“Getting just a win won’t do, I need to win in a big fashion,” he said. “I will beat Rashad, I am convinced of it. I’ll be 100% the night of the fight and I’ve trained enough to get the win.”
As for the future if he doesn’t recapture his past form, that’s a topic he doesn’t even think about.
“When I fight, I don’t think of the possibility of defeat,” said Nogueira. “In the fight game, only the best wins, and how you fight matters a lot. So to be among the best, I need to have a good result in this fight.”
Rogerio Nogueira: All Systems Go
"Getting just a win won’t do, I need to win in a big fashion." - Rogerio Nogueira