One of the most important UFC heavyweight fights in recent memory is going to take place on the main card of UFC 134. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is a true legend of the sport, PRIDE’s first heavyweight champion, and in my opinion, the second greatest heavyweight fighter of all time (after Fedor Emelianenko). Despite a very long layoff, Nogueira is still ranked on the fringes of the top ten in the heavyweight division, and a win against a quality opponent like Brendan Schaub could be just what he needs to bounce back into title contention. Schaub is the rising star, the former NFL linebacker who has been quickly rising through the ranks. For Schaub, a win over Nogueira would go a long way towards legitimizing him as one of the world’s truly best heavyweight fighters.
And the more I think about this fight, the more I’m confounded by it. Every time I think of something that makes me think Schaub should win, I think of something that counters that, and vice versa. This is an extremely difficult fight for me to call.
Let’s start with each man’s SILVA score, and get that out of the way. Nogueira’s SILVA score is 47.03, compared to Schaub’s 34.29. But there’s already a problem from a purely numbers-based standpoint: I’ve noticed that SILVA tends to overrate fighters who are on the decline, keeping them in the elite tier of fighters long after they no longer deserve to be there. Cases in point: Fedor Emelianenko (47.35), Matt Hughes (43.66), Takanori Gomi (43.46). While SILVA is generally very good at noticing strong rising fighters, it’s not fast enough to properly rate formerly great fighters on the decline.
Still, Nogueira maintains a higher Fight Level than Schaub as well. And that’s where I go back and forth. Schaub enters this fight with a professional record of 8-1. His UFC wins list is as follows: Chase Gormley, Chris Tuchscherer, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop. It’s not a bad list, but I’m not blown away by Gormley or Tuchscherer, and Gonzaga and Cro Cop have both seen better days in their respective careers. The Cro Cop fight, in particular, was tougher for Schaub than it should have been; at least, tougher than it should have been for a supposedly future star. Nogueira may be a faded legend, but he’s at least better than Cro Cop is at this point, right? So, from that angle, I start to lean towards Nogueira.
Then I think of all of the circumstances surrounding Nogueira. He’s been out for 18 months, rehabbing injuries and regaining his health. He used to be famous for his ability to withstand severe amounts of punishment without being knocked out, but that’s gone as both Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez stopped Nogueira in one-sided fashion. And Nogueira has now been competing in professional MMA for 12 years. This is well beyond the “9-year rule” that claims that fighters tend to decline at that point, and Nogueira’s loss to Mir was his first fight after the 9-year mark of his career.
But then I think to myself: well, you can do worse in the heavyweight division than Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez. Mir is one of the UFC’s best heavyweights, and Velasquez is THE best heavyweight, and the current champion. It’s not like Nogueira’s getting beaten by weak opposition, and he did put together a very strong performance at UFC 102 against Randy Couture.
So as I’m sure you can tell, my thought process keeps going back and forth. Well, how do Nogueira and Schaub match up?
Schaub is a good striker who has definite KO power. He knocked out Chris Tuchscherer in about a minute, knocked out Mirko Cro Cop, and thoroughly out-struck Gabriel Gonzaga. He’s a decent wrestler as well; perhaps this comes from tackling people in football more than anything, but he does have good takedown abilities. His ground game… is functional. He was making some bizarre attempts to pass Cro Cop’s guard at UFC 128 by shifting his weight onto one side, but it didn’t really work. From what I’ve seen, Schaub’s ground game is meant for survival more than anything.
That could spell trouble against Nogueira. If this fight winds up on the ground, Nogueira’s ground game should be far beyond Schaub’s, to the point that I feel Nogueira could absolutely catch him in a submission. The problem is that I don’t know if Nogueira can get this fight to the ground. Nogueira’s wrestling is below-average at best, and while he has good technical boxing, I don’t see Nogueira landing a power punch that would cause Schaub to want to clinch or go to the ground.
If Nogueira chooses to try to take Schaub to the ground, I see it being similar to Nogueira vs. Tim sylvia – a fight in which Nogueira was getting hit hard between takedown attempts, but through sheer persistence, eventually locked up a submission on Sylvia. I feel that repeated attempts to take Schaub down would be mostly unsuccessful, but with Nogueira, all he needs is one. It’s a tough road, though.
Nogueira’s other option is to stand and strike with Schaub. Nogueira’s had success with his boxing in the past, but the key difference between him and Schaub is that Schaub has good KO power, and Nogueira doesn’t. Even in the event that Nogueira out-strikes Schaub, Schaub may be more likely to win because he’s capable of scoring a knockout, and Nogueira’s chin just isn’t what it used to be.
SILVA PREDICTION: ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA (47.03) OVER BRENDAN SCHAUB (34.29)
For the second time in three main card fights, I can’t go along with SILVA’s prediction. One reason is the documented tendency for SILVA to overrate declining fighters. Nogueira definitely qualifies as one of those fighters, meaning that his SILVA score is an almost certain over-estimate. But picking Schaub goes beyond the numbers. Nogueira has historically been a fighter who relied on his exceptional ability to take a punch to win. Nogueira is famous for taking a beating in a fight, and ending up victorious by submission, even against a guy like Bob Sapp. Nogueira’s chin just isn’t what it used to be, and so as much as I hate to say it, I think that a Schaub KO is the most likely outcome.