Posted 04/09/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC Fight Night 39: Minotauro Nogueira vs. Roy Nelson Preview

The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi Friday, exactly four years (plus a day) since the UFC was (first and) last seen around these parts for UFC 112.* No one will mistake Friday’s show with that debut in 2010. Where the latter had two title matches topping the card, Fight Night 39 features Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira versus Roy Nelson and Clay Guida versus Tatsuya Kawajiri, a pair of fights that held a great deal more luster five years ago.

* – I wrote a “Where Are They Now?” article for the twenty men who competed on that card. Read it.

Friday? You Mean Saturday, Right?

The weekend in the United Arab Emirates runs Friday to Saturday. That didn’t stop UFC 112 from airing on Saturday (“Sunday” in the UAE). Fight Pass changes the paradigm, and I’m beyond apologetic for having to use the word “paradigm.” The network gives the UFC greater freedom to cater to local markets. Which makes sense: You shouldn’t expect fight fans to purchase tickets for and attend cards schedule to start at 1 a.m. local time.

Not only will this event take place on Friday, but the prelims will start at 11:50 a.m. ET in America. Hopefully you’ve got a second monitor at your desk or a tablet you can prop up behind the cash register, otherwise you’ll have to settle for the wonderful world of tape-delayed MMA.

No Country For Old Men

MMA fans have joked for years about “Minotauro” Nogueira looking well beyond his actual age (or as someone delightfully put it on Twitter: “He looks like he got run over by a truck.”). That’s covered up the fact that he’s been getting actual old for MMA the last couple years, and he’s now two months shy of his 38th birthday in June.

Also two months shy of his 38th birthday? Nogueira’s opponent, Roy Nelson. It’s an age that also shouldn’t surprise us, but Nelson spent the first half of his career in regional and upstart promotions. He didn’t arrive in the UFC until the end of 2009 (via the Ultimate Fighter), where he’s spent the last 4.5-plus years.

On Friday, the two men will enter the cage with a combined 75 years of age and 72 professional fights. We can only hope they don’t look the part.

The Long and Winding Road

Their UFC careers, in the words of the promotion, have been filled with “struggles.” Nogueira entered the UFC 29-4-1 (with 1 no contest) including a run as Pride’s first heavyweight champion. Since then, 5-4, and hasn’t won two consecutive fights since his debut against Heath Herring and his sophomore fight against Tim Sylvia, which also brought him the interim UFC heavyweight title. His wins in the UFC include Herring and Sylvia plus Couture (who would win his next and last heavyweight fight against James Toney), Brendan Schaub, and Dave Herman. In the loss column, Frank Mir (twice), Cain Velasquez, and Fabricio Werdum.

Nelson’s UFC run has been filled with more streaks in either direction. He debuted with two wins inside the Octagon then two losses, a win, a loss, three wins, and two losses. His win column: Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Herman, Matt Mitrione, and Check Kongo. His losses: Junior dos Santos, Mir, Werdum, Stipe Miocic, and Daniel Cormier.

There’s no shame in either man’s loss column, of course, but it affirms their place in the UFC heavyweight division (which overlaps all but Nogueira’s first 2.5 years) during their tenure below the division elite.

And Yet, Fringe Top Ten

It speaks to the heavyweight division’s top-heavyness that Nogueira and Nelson sit at the fringe of the top ten (eleventh and ninth, respectively). The idea of a Unified Talent Pool (TM Derek Suboticki) most benefits the heavyweight division, and the fall of Pride and subsequent fall of EliteXC/Affliction/Strikeforce seemed to portend a heavyweight rebirth. Yet we stand with a dominant champ (Velasquez), the twice-defeated top contender (dos Santos), two legitimate-but-limited challengers (Werdum and Travis Browne), and the also-rans (everyone else, save, maybe Stipe Miocic). The heavyweight division’s next mega-fight hinges on Jon Jones’ metabolism.

Better Late Than Never

Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri seems five years too late. In mid-2009, Guida, then 27, finished his best run in the UFC to date, a three-fight winning streak which included Samy Schiavo, Mac Danzig, and Nate Diaz. Kawajiri, then 31, had won two fights in a row, including a win over long-overlooked Gesias Cavalcante, and his two classics against Takanori Gomi and Eddie Alvarez still stood fresh in everyone’s minds.

It’s still a fun fight in 2014, but the parameters have changed a bit. Guida’s 32 and Kawajiri 35 (a month away from 36), and both have been forced to move down a division. Guida ended up having a better run between 2010 and 2011, submitting Shannon Gugerty, Rafael dos Anjos, and Gomi back-to-back-to-back before taking a decision over now-champ Anthony Pettis. But two straight losses – one to Ben Henderson and the other an embarrassing, crowd-turning performance against Gray Maynard – sent him packing.

Kawajiri didn’t have the same success as Guida, though he did defeat Josh Thomson at Dynamite!! 2010, though he also lost to a pair of long-time lightweight standouts in Gilbert Melendez and Shinya Aoki.

Neither’s move seems to be motivated by self-preservation as much as opportunism, though there are few cases of older fighters finding more success moving down in weight. Guida’s split his two fights at the weight, taking a controversial decision over Hatsu Hioki and taking a mollywhopping from Chad Mendes. Kawajiri’s won his first five fights, including his UFC debut, though Guida represents his toughest opponent at the weight.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter


Mike Fagan