UFC 92 featured a lot of things: the crowning of a new light heavyweight king in Rashad Evans; the crowning of a new interim UFC heavyweight champion in Frank Mir; and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson proving to the critics that it wasn’t too soon to return to the Octagon.
However, another prevailing theme from UFC 92 was the continuing demise of the old Brazilian guard of PRIDE. If I could just escape my manufactured “AP-style persona” with you for a few seconds and keep it real by getting “fanboi” on you for a few moments, PRIDE will always have a special place in my heart. It was just such a unique brand of MMA, the likes of which we had never seen and will probably never see again.
PRIDE had so many dynamic elements working in its favor but what always stood out the most to me were the stars that the promotion was able to create. The top stars that at one time made PRIDE the number one MMA promotion in the world will always be known as some of the most iconic in the history of this sport. And two of PRIDE’s biggest icons were none other than two of UFC 92’s primary principals, Wanderlei Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
While a lot of people wanted to “Be Like Mike,” I wanted to be like “The Axe Murderer.” Having trained and competed in martial arts and also having worked as a bouncer, if I ever was involved in a violent confrontation, I aspired to be like Wanderlei and show absolutely no fear and be able to steamroll my opposition. Now bear with me, because things rarely, if ever, worked out that way for me during violent confrontations. But how many people who tried to emulate Michael Jordan were ever able to put up 63 points in a pickup basketball game?
Hopefully you get the idea of what I’m getting at. Just like the average human being who idolized Jordan could never quite hit that turnaround fade away jumper with seconds running out, I never quite put a drunk patron in a clinch and delivered knees until they collapsed. But one can dream, right?
As for Nogueira, he was this stately sportsman with a world class knowledge of the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who could overcome just about anything. He was afraid of no man and took on all comers. He was seemingly indestructible and able to recover from any beating. Watching him taught me that no matter how badly I was getting my ass handed to me in a sparring session to never give up and take my beating like a man.
I apologize if it sounds like I had man crushes on Nogueira and Silva but martial arts isn’t just a hobby for me, it changed my life. And Nogueira and Silva were two of my super heroes. But while they appeared to be immortal in PRIDE, they have looked oh too mortal in the UFC. In fact, they look like two completely different fighters.
In PRIDE, Silva was this savage warrior who would just straight beat opponents down. However, in the UFC, against Chuck Liddell and Jackson, he’s been the guy who has been subjected to the beatdowns. Sure, his UFC 84 fight vs. Keith Jardine was vintage Wanderlei, but that was just one brief moment in time.
The dismantling of Jardine is not enough to mask the fact that Silva is now 1-4 in his last five fights with three of the contests ending via crushing knockouts. His fall from grace raises the legitimate question about just how much left he has in the gas tank at 32-years of age.
However, falling from grace isn’t exclusive to Silva. As great as Nogueira is, even his most ardent supporter has to admit that his body of work in the UFC has been nothing special. In their two previous meetings in PRIDE, Nogueira handled Heath Herring for the most part. But in a match scheduled to showcase Minotauro in his UFC debut at UFC 73, Herring was more than just a handful for the big Brazilian and had Nogueira in trouble on several occasions.
Against Tim Sylvia at UFC 81, I thought Nogueira was done. Sylvia mauled him until he pulled out his trademarked Hail Mary comeback. And since winning is all that matters to so many of us, Nogueira’s overall performance that fight was swept under the rug.
Last night’s fight vs. Mir began to unfold in typical Nogueira fashion but the ending was one we had never seen. Nogueira was in trouble on multiple occasions in he first round but Mir was unable to put him away.
With four rounds to go, I was convinced it was only a matter of time until Nogueira turned the tide much like he did in PRIDE during epic encounters vs. Bob Sapp, Mark Coleman, and Semmy Schilt. But the comeback never happened and the legend who had never been TKO’d or submitted in a fight was finished by a man who just a few short years ago appeared to be on the brink of expulsion from the UFC.
Nogueira’s performance at UFC 92 cannot be considered anything but disappointing. Coming into the fight, I was a vocal critic of Mir’s well-earned reputation for having poor conditioning. But while Mir looked anything like a chiseled Adonis, one has to be fair in pointing out that Nogueira did not appear to be in peak physical condition either. As much as it pains me to say it, he was carrying a lot of weight last night and appeared to be a little pudgy.
But the most bitter pill to swallow was witnessing a man who used to train with the Cuban National Boxing Team get smoked in the standup aspect of the fight against a guy in Mir whose striking had been perceived as a weakness throughout his entire seven year career.
So where do Silva and Nogueira go from here? For Silva, there is no shortage of big-name opponents for him to be matched up with at 205 pounds in the UFC. But how many of them can he actually beat at this stage of his career? The UFC isn’t going to pay him six-figures a fight to lose in devastating fashion.
However, economics are the least of the concerns regarding Silva’s UFC future. This is a human life we are talking about and there are other factors that need to be addressed. Silva has been the victim of several brutal knockouts over the course of a relatively short span. It’s important to not forget that former UFC competitor Sean Salmon had his license suspended in the state of California because he absorbed one brutal KO too many. Another bad knockout for Silva and the Nevada State Athletic Commission may find itself in a position where it has to intervene.
During a recent interview leading up to UFC 92, Silva once again was asked the question about whether he’d consider a move to middleweight. Unlike the past, he didn’t rule the possibility out. But forget about considering the move, it’s time to just go ahead and make it. Silva is not what he once was and can no longer swim with the sharks in the UFC’s stacked light heavyweight division. He needs to move down in weight in an attempt to reinvent himself in a division that isn’t anywhere near as deep as 205 and contains fewer power punchers.
For Nogueira, I’d say he just needs some time off but he was already coming off a long layoff following his stint as a coach on the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Perhaps the answer isn’t time off but to simply get right back into the cage within the next 2-3 months against a mid-tier heavyweight that he can dominate?
Whether my recommendations for the next career moves for Silva and Nogueira are the proper courses of action is uncertain. But one thing I am certain of is that both are in the midst of prolonged downward spirals and the free-falls both are experiencing need to come to an end soon before they hit rock bottom.