It’s been a dream match-up for many hardcore MMA fans for several years and on Aug. 29 former UFC heavyweight champion Randy “The Natural” Couture will finally do battle with former Pride and UFC champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Both former titleholders step into this bout coming off of losses, but which heavyweight will take a step back towards the championship picture? Regardless of his age, 46, Randy Couture has already defied the odds and continues to do so by competing at the highest levels of the sport. Running his team at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, the former Olympic hopeful still works just as hard as anyone in the sport.
Gaining much of his success while fighting in Japan, Rodrigo Nogueira finally made the move to the United States when Pride was purchased by the UFC. Since that time he’s gone 2-1 with his only loss coming by way of former champion Frank Mir last December.
Both fighters have something to prove in an ever-developing heavyweight division and this fight could solidify one fighter as a contender, while the other could spend quite some time working his way back to the top.
Nogueira’s stand-up has been known for two things: solid boxing and having a granite chin that could sustain unbelievable amounts of punishment. The latter took a major hit in his fight with Frank Mir, as he got caught repeatedly throughout their two-round affair and eventually was toppled by strikes following two knockdowns earlier in the bout.
Nogueira has stated on several occasions since the fight that he was not physically well going into the match-up, and other reports said the Brazilian was infected with staph heading into the fight. Either way, Nogueira has taken some big shots in his day so his striking in this fight needs to include more defense to accompany his boxing or he may have another long day in the Octagon.
Couture has always been known more for his clinch work and ground attack, but he has steadily improved his striking year-over-year. Although he did drop two fights later in his career to Chuck Liddell, it was their first fight where Couture stayed aggressive and used his boxing to keep the former light heavyweight champion on his heels the entire fight.
Throughout his career, Couture has used his punching to set up the clinch where he utilizes a dirty boxing style that has been disastrous for several opponents. If he can get inside of Nogueira’s jab, Couture should be able to control the stand-up, but aggression has to be the key.
Many critics believe this truly will be the category to watch when Couture and Nogueira step into the cage on Saturday night. A former Olympic level wrestler, Couture has shown tremendous ground control throughout his career, while Nogueira’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is some of, if not the best, in the heavyweight division.
Traditionally, Couture likes to work a dirty boxing game to set up his Greco-Roman wrestling from the clinch. He’s taken down some of the best fighters in the game and kept them down, and being underneath Couture’s ground and pound is a difficult proposition for any fighter.
While not MMA, Couture has also competed in the grappling world and went to a draw with famed jiu-jitsu and Abu Dhabi champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in a match a few years ago. Not known for his submissions, Couture does manage to keep his opponent’s off balance and never puts himself in a bad position, which ultimately keeps him from being submitted.
Nogueira’s ground attack is the stuff of legend. In his days with Pride, he reeled off a stunning 11 submission victories. Working from his back is what the former Pride champion does best and fighting a wrestler like Couture, that’s more than likely what he’ll do in this fight as well.
For his ground game to work, Nogueira has to get Couture to the mat by any means necessary, even if it means pulling guard and throwing up anything and everything he can to try and catch him.
While their styles are different, Couture and Nogueira both compete at the highest level when it comes to the ground game, but the American’s wrestling could be the difference maker if the fight goes to a decision, as he will likely decide when and if the fight hits the ground.
This category would seemingly go to Randy Couture almost every time just based on his tremendous clinch game and ability to control where the fight takes place. It’s no secret that he is the better wrestler in this fight, but he still has to be wary of Nogueira’s boxing when on the feet and his aggressive submission attack on the ground.
This is again a toss-up as both fighters have competed in some of the highest-level bouts this sport has ever known. Nogueira battled for round after round and in tournaments while fighting in Pride, while Couture has fought into the “championship” rounds a few times in his career, as well as battling through the tournament format his entire wrestling career. Couture has also pushed himself physically while competing in several major sporting competitions, including endurance races, and his pace is almost unmatched in any fight.
In his last fight, Nogueira did seem very sluggish throughout, but as referenced earlier he was apparently not physically well heading into the bout. Still, the Brazilian has to know the pressure is on him to stay active for every minute in this fight. With it only being a three rounder, conditioning shouldn’t be a problem for either of these athletes.
THE “X” FACTOR
The biggest “X” factor heading into this fight is the same factor that’s been brought up in several categories prior to this. Was 33-year-old Nogueira’s last performance brought on by sickness or has time caught up to the once great champion? Time never seems to catch up to Couture, and even though he got TKO’d by current champion Brock Lesnar in his last fight, the ageless wonder was holding his own against the hulking Minnesotan prior to the finishing flurry.
It’s never been a secret that Nogueira could take punishment and like the Energizer bunny he just keeps going and going and going. With this fight only being for three rounds, and with each round only being five minutes, Nogueira simply can’t wait to wear down his opponent as he’s been able to do in the past, especially when that opponent is Couture.
Nogueira has to be the aggressor in this fight, keeping Couture off balance, and if the fight hits the ground, throw everything and the kitchen sink at the former UFC champion to try and submit him. Even if he doesn’t catch him, making Couture work just to stay out of trouble will look better to the judges who are notorious for granting the decision to whoever happens to be on top in a ground fight.
KEYS TO VICTORY
- Use the clinch and dirty boxing
- Work his wrestling game to his advantage
- Slip inside of Nogueira’s jab and stay close
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira:
- Be the aggressor at every point
- On the ground use every submission at his disposal
- Work the jab to keep Couture away from the clinch