Light-heavyweight American wrestler Ryan ‘Darth’ Bader proved too physical and too determined for ageing Brazilian MMA legend Antônio Rogério Nogueira on Saturday night in São Paulo, Brazil, much to the crowd’s displeasure. It’s been a great career for ‘little Nog’, as well as his twin brother, ‘big Nog’, but it looks like things are now wrapping up for them, as age and younger talent creep up on them both.
The thing about a UFC main event is that I shouldn’t know the outcome of the fight before it starts. A bout should be made only if it’s going to be competitive, and both fighters thus have a chance for victory. This one, however, was only ever going to go one way.
At 33, Ryan Bader is in his prime. In his younger days, he showed explosive and technical wrestling. Real high level stuff. But he was green too, to the submission threat while grappling, and also to the KO threat while on the feet. Particularly embarrassing was losing via guillotine choke to an out of shape and somewhat washed-up Tito Ortiz. But these days his game has become more well-rounded. Ryan can dominate in grappling due to his wrestling ability while negating the submission threat, and on the feet, his striking has come on in leaps and bounds. With his stocky powerful frame, he can throw heavy leather, although he’s still susceptible to being hit too often than he should.
I knew that all of this would add up to a gruesome night for little Nog. In years gone by, the Brazilian had great takedown defence. This made him a tough match-up for most fighters, given that Nogueira is a high-level boxer- even taking bronze in 2007 in boxing at the Pan-American games. He does limit himself mostly to a boxing heavy technique, with few kicks, but as his record shows he’s a legitimate KO threat.
However, against a wrestler like Bader, a fighter would need to exhibit takedown defence of the highest level to keep things a boxing match, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that at 39 little Nog’s defence isn’t going to be what it once was. I predicted a Bader takedown in the first round, and a finish via ground‘n’pound before the bell rung.
In the big picture, I was correct, although the details weren’t exactly right. Instead of taking down Nogueira and finishing him in the first, Bader was instead happy to take down Nogueira multiple times for almost three rounds and beat on him brutally. It was one of those frustrating fights where things were obviously one-sided, but a clear ‘fight ending’ moment failed to come. It started to become somewhat painful viewing.
Finally at the end of the third, Bader started to dominate from top position enough that the referee had seen enough, and intervened to save little Nog from any more punishment. Funnily enough, before Bader’s first takedown in the first round, Nogueira did actually land a left hand right behind the ear, wobbling Bader. But this merely made Bader realise he should take the fight to the ground even quicker than he originally would have. When one fighter knows he can utilise a takedown whenever he likes, it’s guaranteed to not be an even contest.
The light-heavyweight division is currently waiting for its champion Daniel Cormier to defend the belt against the hammer-fisted Anthony Johnson. The only other guy above Bader is Alex Gustafsson, but he’s injured. All in all, it’s a pretty uninteresting situation, but one that benefits Bader. As long as ex-champ Jon Jones is banned from competition, I can’t see who else but Bader would fight for the title after Cormier vs Johnson.
As for little Nog, it’s been a great career that has spanned multiple organisations across multiple continents. He’ll be best remembered for his wars in PRIDE in Japan against other legends like Dan Henderson, Shogun Rua, and Alistair Overeem. But there’s no denying that he’s not as fast, reactive, or athletic as he once was, and I think it’s time to call it quits. He’s 3-5 in his last 8, which is by no means awful given that he’s fighting top opponents in the UFC, but it’d be great to see him hang up the gloves before things get ugly, as opposed to after. And things got a little ugly on Saturday night.
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