This Friday marks the UFC’s return to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for UFC Fight Night 39 and is headlined by a heavyweight bout between former PRIDE and UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira (34-8-1, 5-4 UFC) and winner of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ season 10, “Big Country” Roy Nelson (19-9, 6-5 UFC).
Both men are veterans of not just the Ultimate Fighting Championship but the sport of mixed martial arts in general, bringing with them a back catalogue of legendary bouts spanning continents and organisations.
Both are also coming off some very disheartening losses, with “Minotauro” fighting for the first time since a submission defeat at the hands of Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1, 5-2 UFC) back in June 2013. As for Nelson, he is coming into this fight off of back-to-back losses, first to Stipe Miocic (11-1, 5-1 UFC) in June of last year and most recently to Daniel Cormier (14-0, 3-0 UFC) back in October.
With both men now at the ripe age of 37 years old, the likelihood of either reaching the upper echelons of the heavyweight division and getting back into the championship is slim, though one mustn’t expect that to deter from either fighter’s motivation this Friday.
Keys to Victory:
“Minotauro”: I don’t need to tell you what the legendary Brazilian’s strengths are coming into this contest. History has made that clear. And while Nogueira’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu pedigree is plain to see, it’s his boxing prowess that has come to the fore in his latest UFC outings. A knockout win over Brendan Schaub, dropping Frank Mir and out-striking Dave Herman all attest to this.
The problem herein lies with the fact that Nelson is a very accomplished grappler himself and possesses some serious knockout power. Unless Nogueira has upped his boxing game even further, it’s hard to fathom him standing and trading with Nelson for too long. “Big Nog” will want to get this to the ground to test out Nelson’s BJJ skills. Expect Nogueira to struggle to take Nelson down though, maybe even opting to pull guard and try and sweep his opponent.
Nelson: It’s fair to speculate that “Big Country” will be looking for the knockout in this fight, but don’t be surprised at all to see Nelson clinching with Nogueira against the fence, looking for a takedown.
For me though, Nelson’s best chance is to utilise his big right hand and granite chin to his advantage and hand Nogueira the third knockout of his storied career. As good as Nelson himself is on the mat, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense for him to risk Nogueira’s elite jiu-jitsu game. Junior Dos Santos, Mirko Cro Cop, Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum couldn’t knock him out, so don’t expect Nogueira to offer anything different here.
Betting on the Brawl:
As much as it pains me to go against “Minotauro”, you would have to think that this is Roy Nelson’s fight to lose. He has never been submitted, and though Nogueira may be the best submission specialist he’ll have fought throughout his career, I can’t see that changing on Friday night.
Nelson is the favourite with odds of 8/13 at Paddy Power, with Nogueira decent value at 5/4. If you can find it though, get on Nelson to win by TKO or KO. If this was a three-rounder I’d go for a decision, but I think over five rounds something is eventually going to give and Nelson will stop Nogueira with punches. The next likely outcome is Nogueira manages to take the fight the distance but not doing enough to win a decision.
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Photo Credit: UFC.com