by Rami Genauer for MMAWeekly.com


UFC 81’s Main Events By the Numbers


Hard as it
is to believe, the bout between Tim Sylvia and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
features the most recent former heavyweight champs from both the Ultimate
Fighting Championship and Pride. The immense drama emanating from the life and
times of one Randall Duane Couture makes it difficult to remember that Sylvia
was the reigning heavyweight champion this time last year. The demise of Pride,
preceded by four years of domination by Fedor Emelianenko obscures the fact
that Nogueira is the only other man to hold Pride’s heavyweight belt. With both
Couture’s and Emelianenko’s careers seemingly in stasis, who better to fight
for the UFC belt but its two runners-up?


match-up is most often viewed through the lens of contrast: Sylvia likes to
stand, Nogueira likes the ground. Sylvia is a striker, Nogueira is a submission
artist. Sylvia is 6’8″ and has to cut to make 265, while Nogueira is 6’3″ and
looks like he could be a diet and a sauna away from joining his brother at 205.


important for analyzing their upcoming fight, however, are the similarities
between the two fighters. Neither has ever been knocked out or stopped with
strikes. Neither has finished or been finished in their last four fights. Both
have displayed the gas tank necessary to go the length of a championship fight
(although Nogueira has never had to go 25 minutes before) and the willingness
to ride-out fights cautiously rather than aggressively trying to finish.




Sylvia and
Nogueira have one opponent in common: Ricco Rodriguez. Though fought
consecutively by Rodriguez, the two fights couldn’t be more dissimilar. Sylvia
fended off two takedown attempts by Rodriguez and knocked him out in less than
four minutes. Nogueira was able to take Rodriguez down in the early part of the
fight, but was repeatedly taken down himself, spending the majority of the
fight in bottom position. From there, Nogueira attempted seven submissions
(five Kimuras, a guillotine, and a triangle), though only one of them had
fight-ending potential. Under Pride rules, Nogueira’s submission attempts were
enough to grant him the unanimous decision victory in one of the most
controversial decisions in MMA history.




In all of
his other bouts, the most analogous opponent faced by Nogueira is Semmy Schilt.
Both Sylva and Schilt are exceedingly tall (6’8″ and 6’10”, respectively), have
excellent striking, and have little demonstrated skill on the ground. Nogueira’s
strategy against Schilt was simple: get a takedown at all costs. Nogueira didn’t
even bother setting up his attempts, opening the fight with five unsuccessful
takedown attempts while throwing just two strikes. Eventually, he wrestled
Schilt to the ground, exploited his weaknesses, and locked on a triangle that
forced a tapout.


The most
analogous opponent faced by Sylvia is Frank Mir. Nogueira and Mir are of
similar size and their fighting styles rely heavily on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Both have shown a willingness to give up top position in order to attempt
submissions from the bottom. The Sylvia-Mir fight ended quickly when Sylvia
bowled Mir over, followed him to the ground, and was caught in an armbar.


Schilt-Sylvia analogue is a pretty apt one. Nogueira could easily attempt the
same strategy he employed against Schilt, diving in for takedown after takedown
until finally landing one. While Nogueira doesn’t possess the takedown ability
of a Randy Couture (who took Sylvia down six times), he can try to imitate Jeff
Monson, who finally landed a takedown after failing on his first four attempts.
On the one hand, the UFC’s rules favor Nogueira. The ban on knees to the head
on the ground significantly decreases the consequences of a failed takedown
shot. Working against Nogueira is the five-minute round. His fight against
Schilt ended at 6:36 of the first round. Had that fight been in the UFC, it
would have been stood-up after five minutes, negating the positional
improvements Nogueira had worked so hard for.


Sylvia-Mir fight is not as useful for the purposes of comparison. While it
demonstrates that Sylvia can be submitted, he will almost certainly not make
the same mistake he made against Mir by following Nogueira to the ground should
he fall to his back. In addition, Sylvia has improved his submission defense in
the meantime, best demonstrated in his fight against Randy Couture, when he
defended a half dozen rear naked choke attempts in the first round alone.


question marks for Nogueira are prominent. After displaying an iron chin
throughout his career, Nogueira has been dropped in two of his last three
fights, most recently by Heath Herring and by Josh Barnett before that. It’s
hard to consider the taking of punishment a talent, but Nogueira’s ability to
withstand strikes, especially while in bottom position, played a large part in
his ability to lock on submissions. If his chin has weakened with age and
overuse, it’s possible we could see his first stoppage loss. More likely, we
will see a tentative, more defensive ground approach from Nogueira should the
fight go there. That, combined with the smothering clinch Sylvia used against
Vera points to a decision, and not a very thrilling one.


vs. Mir


the fight between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir is unlikely to last that long. It
should be, as Thomas Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish, and short.”


Since this
is only Lesnar’s second MMA match, there is little historical evidence to
analyze. That said, there are two important observations one can make from his
one fight against an overmatched Min Soo Kim: He is extremely aggressive and he
can throw strikes with power even while being held close in top position.


Neither of
these facts bode well for Mir. His takedown defense is mostly untested, though
he was taken down on three of the four attempts against him. If (more likely,
when) he ends up on his back, he will have to work quickly for the submission.
Based on his previous fights, to be blunt, when Frank Mir gets hit on the
ground, he loses. His three losses – to Ian Freeman, Marcio Cruz, and
Brandon Vera – all saw Mir take punishment on the ground and never
recover. In the seven fights he finished, Mir never absorbed a single
significant strike on the ground.


Aside from
submissions, Mir possesses one other main weapon: leg kicks. Mir has started
six of his 11 UFC fights with an immediate leg kick and has connected on 16 of
17 leg kicks in all. Lesnar has never had to deal with leg kicks before and a
concerted effort to attack his legs might affect his wrestling.


On the
other hand, it was a caught leg kick that led to his takedown against Kim. It’s
hard to imagine Lesnar on the ground not throwing something. Mir had better
attack, dodge, or show resilience to strikes we’ve never seen from him before
or this fight will be another quick disappointment for those nostalgic for “the
old frank Mir.”


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