At UFC 92, interim UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was set to take on Frank Mir in a fight that would determine who would face Brock Lesnar, the winner of the real UFC heavyweight championship against Randy Couture. At the time, Nogueira was legendary for being seemingly impossible to finish. By having arguably the best ground game in the heavyweight division, submitting Nogueira was a dubious prospect, and despite suffering tremendous beatings from Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko Cro Cop, Nogueira had never been knocked out either. In fact, before the fight, Mir himself wondered just how he was going to deal with the challenge that Nogueira presented.
In the fight, Mir showed how: by out-boxing Nogueira and knocking him down repeatedly, to the point that referee Herb Dean was compelled to stop the fight and award Mir a TKO victory. Nogueira hadn’t literally been knocked out, but he had been finished for the first time.
Later, it was revealed that Nogueira, who came in for the fight slightly overweight, had been suffering from a staph infection and was hospitalized not long before the fight. Since then, both men have been clamoring for a rematch, and now we’re getting one.
Unfortunately, neither man has blown away the MMA world since they fought back in December 2008. Mir has gone 3-2, losing decisively to Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin, while looking quite lackluster in wins against Roy Nelson and Mirko Cro Cop. Only once has Mir really impressed – in a very fast submission win over Cheick Kongo. Meanwhile, Nogueira has spent his time since the fight mostly injured; he’s 2-1 since his loss to Mir. Now, Nogueira did deliver a very surprising KO victory over Brendan Schaub at UFC 134, and his loss was a KO to Cain Velasquez – no shame there. The problem is all the time he spent recovering from injuries. That, more than anything else, showed how Nogueira is well past his prime as an MMA fighter.
So neither man is close to his peak, but who is more likely to win the rematch? Well, if SILVA is to be believed, you should favor Nogueira. Despite all the talk about Nogueira’s decline (including by myself), he is 7-3 in his last ten fights, defeating Schaub, Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett, and Fabricio Werdum. The losses – to Mir, Velasquez, and Barnett – are not particularly bad as far as losses go. A comparison of the recent records of Mir and Nogueira shows that Nogueira has simply been more successful as a fighter.
But, as I have lamented many times, SILVA can only look at wins and losses, and it would be more useful to be able to consistently evaluate the underlying performance of a fighter. And the fact of the matter is that Nogueira is usually out-struck by his opponents – for evidence of this, check out his recent history as tracked by Fight Metric. Sure, Nogueira may out-strike the occasional Heath Herring, but he usually wins despite being hit more than his opponent. It’s not a good trend.
Not that Mir is a whole lot better as far as getting hit is concerned, but with Mir, there’s much more of a dichotomy. Mir is a fighter who folds when things aren’t going well for him. He was bludgeoned by Shane Carwin, crushed by Brock Lesnar, and pummeled by each of Brandon Vera and Ian Freeman. Many of the strikes that have been landed on Mir have been concentrated in his few losses. More often, Mir does manage to out-strike his opponent, and when things are going well for Mir, he’s always able to translate that into a victory.
SILVA PREDICTION: ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA (74.30) OVER FRANK MIR (64.57)
What seals the deal is the difference in KO power between Nogueira and Mir. It would be too easy to get caught up in Nogueira’s last fight result (he has KO power now!), but the fact of the matter is that the Schaub KO was his second actual KO in 40 fights. Mir’s not exactly a KO machine, but he does have three KO wins in 20 fights, as opposed to two in 40, and with the advantage in quantity of strikes landed he’s likely to enjoy, he’s much more likely to win the fight with the striking game. What was once thought of as a horrible match for Mir now appears to be a horrible match for Nogueira. Sorry Nogueira, and sorry SILVA, but I have to take Mir to win this one.