By Josh Stein on Aug 20, 2009
It hasn’t been said, perhaps because it sounds like too harsh a criticism of two of the sport’s most beloved competitors, but it should.
The upcoming bout between former UFC heavyweight and lightheavyweight Randy Couture (16-9 MMA, 13-6 UFC, #6 IWMMAR) and former Pride and UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (31-5-1-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC, #5 IWMMAR) will be a test to see if either of these two fighters are going to have continued relevance in one of MMA’s most controversial and talent-starved divisions.
While both fighters are legends, and will have extensive careers as long as they choose to keep fighting, it’s really a question of whether they can continue to have an impact on a division that seems to be getting bigger and, while not growing quickly, has a younger, athletic and talented pool of fighters. Nogueira and Couture, who have been less than impressive in recent performances, need to answer what will inevitably be criticisms of their ability to compete against a generation of younger fighters as they keep getting older.
For Couture, the dominant question will be not so much age and health oriented as whether he can continue to compete with larger fighters. The UFC heavyweight division is, make no mistake, getting larger, and after the next season of TUF ends there’s a good chance that there will be four or five new true heavyweights absorbed into the UFC’s big-man division. After a fight with freshly minted UFC champion Brock Lesnar (4-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC, #2 IWMMAR) that ended largely as the result of a huge weight skew in favor of the 280ish pound Lesnar, Couture really needs to demonstrate that he has the power and athleticism to execute the gameplans that he develops in what we already know is a brilliant tactical mind. For Randy, the fight with Nogueira is another chance to step in against a stronger, larger opponent and show that he can compete.
Of course, the questions for Couture may have to be postponed, because the reality is that Nogueira is not the heavyweight matchup that Couture has to be worried about, that Couture has to show he can overcome. Randy needs to win, to be sure, but even a win against Nogueira won’t necessarily answer all of the questions that we have for the UFC hall-of-famer. In order to accomplish that, Couture will need to be matched up with one of the division’s bigger, younger fighters.
Nogueira, on the other hand, needs to have a strong showing. More importantly, he needs to be dominant. The reality is that, since his debut in the UFC, Nogueira has been thoroughly unimpressive. Even in defeating Heath Herring (28-14-0-1 MMA, 2-3 UFC) , Nogueira disappointed a lot of fans, and many thought that Herring, if he had been willing to follow up after a big head kick, may very well have finished the Brazilian. While the last minute of the fight with Tim Sylvia (24-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) was a moment of classic brilliance and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizardry from Nogueira, but the beating he took in the first two rounds disappointed as well, especially given the fat, lethargic nature of Sylvia.
In three UFC performances, Nogueira has been disappointing. In coming off of a loss to Frank Mir (12-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC, #4 IWMMAR) , Nogueira needs a win to get back on track, but he also needs to have a strong showing in terms of technical ability, as well as in terms of his physical ability. There is a theory going around among many fans that Nogueira’s health will no longer allow him to fight the hardscrabble, enduring bouts that he has in the past, and the wars he’s been in certainly haven’t left him in the best shape as far as his ability to take punishment over extended periods of time. With ten or twenty fights under his belt, Nogueira was a warrior who could take punishment and use his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt to catch opponents when they got stupid, but as he approaches the forty fight mark, and given the beatings he’s taken from fights with Fedor Emelianenko (30-1-0-1 MMA, #1 IWMMAR) and the wars he went through during his Pride years, like the bout with Bob Sapp (10-5-1 MMA) that saw Nogueira repeatedly suplexed before he trapped Sapp and won by armbar. The question is whether Nogueira can keep that going, or if he’ll have to radically change his fighting style, and if he’ll be able to maintain any sort of winning record at this point in his career.
For continued relevance, both Couture and Nogueira need strong showings, and they need to display their skill sets, as well as their ability to execute. If they can’t, then it’s going to be a first step towards the cage door for both of them.
Filed Under: MMA
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.