If this match took place in 2007, it would be hailed as a UFC vs. PRIDE “dream match.” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was one of PRIDE’s top middleweights (204 lbs.) and a fighter who had wins over opponents like Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem. Like his twin brother, Rodrigo, Rogerio had very crisp boxing and a very tight ground game. On the flip side, Tito Ortiz was still very well-respected as a light-heavyweight fighter, known for having some of the best ground and pound in the sport, and only having recently lost to Chuck Liddell, and there was no shame in that.
Now it’s December 2011, and this seems less like a dream fight and more like a fight to determine whose relevant career has more time left. It’s particularly bad for Tito Ortiz, who had one foot out the door before improbably submitting Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in July. Since his December 2006 loss to Liddell nearly five years ago now, Ortiz has fought Rashad Evans to a draw, lost to Lyoto Machida, lost to Forrest Griffin, lost to Matt Hamill, and lost in a rematch with Evans after the win over Bader. Meanwhile, Nogueira hasn’t had nearly as bad a recent fight history, but he is entering with a two-fight losing streak, with a loss to Bader to go along with a loss to Phil Davis.
But just going over the recent losses of each fighter steers the mind toward which fighter is more likely to win. Nogueira’s losses really weren’t all that bad. Despite losing to Tito Ortiz, Ryan Bader remains a very good light-heavyweight, and a tough match for anybody, but Phil Davis is (in my opinion) a top five light-heavyweight. The fact that Nogueira fought very competitively against each man suggests that Nogueira is still a top 15 fighter at light-heavyweight, just perhaps no longer a title contender.
Meanwhile, I would say that Ortiz has become the Wanderlei Silva of the light-heavyweight division. That is to say: once in a while, Ortiz is capable of popping up and winning a fight nobody expects him to… such as the Bader fight, for instance. But as long as Ortiz is facing very tough opponents, he’ll lose more often than he wins. Sure, Ortiz put up a fight against Matt Hamill, and Forrest Griffin, and for about 30 seconds against Lyoto Machida, but it’s not good enough to merely lose without getting blown out. I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan. I’m fully aware that there’s no medal for simply putting up a good fight in losing. The Vikings may threaten to beat Green Bay, or Atlanta, or Detroit, but the fact is that they’re still 2-10 and a very bad team.
To take things further, let’s simply look at each man’s fighting style. Nogueira’s boxing is much cleaner than Ortiz’s; it’s not close. It’s possible that Ortiz could land a big punch that dazes Nogueira, but it’s very unlikely. The way Ortiz wins fights is to take his opponent down and land strikes on the ground, winning by decision or possibly TKO. Here’s the problem: this is the same Nogueira who opponents used to refuse to fight on the ground. Nogueira still has an excellent ground game, even if it didn’t show through against people like Phil Davis.
SILVA PREDICTION: ANTONIO ROGERIO NOGUEIRA (68.39) OVER TITO ORTIZ (44.70)
If Ortiz strikes with Nogueira, he’s very unlikely to win; Nogueira is just better at it. If Ortiz takes Nogueira down (not very easy, ask Bader and Davis), he’ll be forced to play with Nogueira’s guard game. At some point, superior skill wins in the end, and while Ortiz should never be completely counted out, no matter what he does in this fight, the odds will be against him.