When Tim Sylvia dropped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with a hard right hand in the first round of their “interim” heavyweight title bout, it looked Big Tim might be on his way to reclaiming the most recent facsimile of the title. As “Minotauro” hit the mat, visions of boring title defenses and five-round snoozers must have danced through Dana White’s mind as he watched from ringside. But it wasn’t to be, as Nogueira showed his resiliency yet again, claiming the belt with a third-round submission victory and possibly saving the UFC’s heavyweight division in the process.
The scouting report on Nogueira tells you everything you need to know about why the outcome of Saturday’s fight went the way it did. “Minotauro” is no stranger to punishment. He’s taken the best shots from some of the best fighters in the world, heavy hitters like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and Mark Coleman, to name a few.
And yet, the Brazilian has never been knocked out. Staggered? Sure. Battered and hurt and woozy? You bet. But try as they might, no one seems able to push him over that edge. He hangs on, clears his head, and then the submission you never saw coming is suddenly tightening around your throat. It happens that easily. Just ask Tim Sylvia.
Hopefully the UFC realizes what a gem they have in Nogueira. He’s a heavyweight with the full MMA toolbox, something that doesn’t come along every day. He can take a punch as well as he can give one, and his submission skills are slick enough that even the fans who boo as soon as a fight hits the mat will get excited to see him work his magic. Perhaps most importantly, his illustrious record in the sport proves his credibility as a champion. He is now the only man to hold both the Pride and UFC championship belts, and that could go a long way toward making people forget that his UFC title has the word “interim” in front of it for entirely political reasons.
Beyond that, however, Nogueira is both humble and likable, traits not often applied to Sylvia. He exudes the aura of a champion, which is exactly what the UFC has been starving for in the heavyweight division. Had Sylvia won the title, it would have made Couture’s absence all the more noticeable. It was, after all, “The Natural” who last liberated the heavyweight strap from Big Tim. Nogueira brings with him the promise of a new era, one that the UFC can build on even if Couture never competes again.
The only question now is who gets the first crack at “Minotauro”. One thing’s for sure: it won’t be Brock Lesnar.