by Mitch Gobetz – MMAWeekly.com
Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira will look to become a world champion once again this Saturday night when he faces 6’8″ Tim Sylvia at UFC 81.

Nogueira is coming off a win against Heath Herring last July. He controlled and dominated the majority of the fight except for a point in the first round where Herring threw a high kick that caught him flush, leaving him badly hurt. Herring missed his opportunity to finish Minotauro as the round ended. After that first round scare, Nogueira dominated Herring with cleaner boxing, takedowns and submission attempts.

MMAWeekly’s No. 2 ranked heavyweight, Nogueira was next in line for a title shot against Randy Couture. But last October, Couture resigned from the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Still recognizing him as its champion, the UFC offered Couture a contract to fight Nogueira, but was refused. With Couture out of the Octagon indefinitely, and more than likely for good, Nogueira’s opponent is instead Sylvia, a former two-time heavyweight champion. Since Couture is still under contract with the UFC, the promotion is billing this fight as an “interim” heavyweight champion.

Nogueira was the first Pride heavyweight champion and held the title for about a year-and-a-half, submitting opponent after opponent before succumbing to Fedor Emelianenko at Pride 25.

He staged a comeback, defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Heath Herring en route to a rematch with Emelianenko to attempt to get the belt back. That fight was ruled a no contest and they re-matched again a few months later. The result was the same though as Emelianenko ground and pounded his way to a decision.

Nogueira enjoyed success in Pride after his second loss to Emelianenko defeating some top competition in Josh Barnett and Fabricio Werdum. When the UFC purchased Pride, Nogueira had already decided to sign with the UFC.

The Brazilian standout had recently left Brazilian Top Team and now trains with his own team of fighters as well as a group of fighters that train primarily with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. With Nogueira taking on a huge heavyweight in Sylvia, he will have to be careful of the Miletich-trained fighter’s reach and power. However, Nogueira has taken on some very large competition in the past and had success. He submitted Bob Sapp and “Zuluzinho” who were both noticeably larger than the Brazilian. But Sylvia is an elite heavyweight with knockout power, a good wrestling base, and good submission defense.

With a win over Sylvia, Nogueira would establish his dominance in the division and prove that he is ready to take on anyone the UFC could throw at him. With Couture gone and Andrei Arlovski’s status with the UFC questionable, he has the potential to be a long reigning champion in the UFC.

While Sylvia is given a hard time by many of the fans for his style of fighting, he does know how to win and Nogueira would be sorely mistaken if he takes Sylvia lightly.

Nogueira has been through many wars over his career and some believe that the damage he’s incurred during those fights may be catching up with him. He has proven, however, that he still has what it takes to win after losing only one fight in the last three years, which was a split decision to Josh Barnett that he later avenged.

There are some unknown factors with Nogueira, being that he has never fought a 25-minute fight while his opponent has been in a few. Another factor could be that he is not used to being pushed up against the cage in a fight. Against a large opponent like Sylvia, it will be interesting to see how Nogueira handles it if it happens.

Nogueira is still in a very elite class and is a danger to any fighter that he faces. His above average boxing and outstanding submissions are enough to make any opponent sweat. On Saturday night, he will look to put the gold back around his waist and cement his legacy as one of the best heavyweight fighters to ever grace mixed martial arts.