Who Takes It? Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Rogerio Nogueira

This week’s edition of “Who Takes It?” travels to Rio De Jainero, Brazil, for a rematch ten years in the making: the co-main event of UFC 189.

When Antonio Rogerio Noguiera enters the cage to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua this Saturday, it will be ten years (almost to the day!) since the two Brazilian MMA icons last squared off.

Their first fight, which took place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan during the heyday of Japanese MMA, Shogun would earn a unanimous decision victory in a back-and-forth classic. It was a battle which brought the often quietly reverent Japanese MMA fans to their feet (in spurts, anyway), and would later be many observers’ choice for “Fight of the Year 2005.”

Nogueira had his share of highlights that night in Saitama, including a few of his southpaw boxing combinations which stagger Shogun — and a few near submissions besides. But it was Rua who scored most of the fight’s takedowns, and he landed the harder strikes (particularly his overhand right and leg kicks) — or at least kept their standup exchanges terribly close. Rua’s damaging strikes on the mat (some of which would be illegal in today’s UFC) were probably the difference on the judges’ scorecards.

Ten years later, well, everything has changed. Japanese MMA’s glamour days seem a distant memory, although there’s still great action to be found at the grassroots level. Organized crime scandals helped tear PRIDE down, and The Ultimate Fighter series helped raise the UFC to a worldwide phenomenon.

In fact, Rua/Nogueira 2 serves as the traditional bout between coaches to end the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. The tournament final bouts, at bantamweight and lightweight, will precede it.

“Shogun” is a -190 favorite to win, and it seems most of press row agrees with the odds. The southpaw Rogerio (who is the smaller of the Nogueira brothers and thus nicknamed “Little Nog”) has seen some tough times of late.

“’Little Nog’ just hasn’t looked that impressive in his UFC tenure,” Canadian MMA journalist Carlin Bardsley said in a recent edition of Parting Shot Podcast. “He lit up Tito Ortiz, but what does that really mean? The Rashad Evans fight was so boring I’m falling asleep thinking about it. I just think “Shogun” is going to touch ‘Little Nog’ early and often; he has the firepower to get him out of there.”

Bardsley’s reasoning seems sound; and he didn’t even bother mentioning Noguiera’s only bout of 2014, a disastrous one-round knockout at the hands of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson.

But then, “Shogun” hasn’t looked so great over the same five year period, with three wins against six losses; including an ugly first round knockout against Ovince St-Preux in his most recent bout.

In a way, the two’s earlier bout was a good look at both’s careers in a microcosm. Nogueira is primarily a jiu-jitsu artist but is well-known for dabbling in boxing, where he earned a bronze medal at the Pan-American Games in 2007. That’s where he had the most success against Rua, who is often regarded a Muay Thai practitioner but has possibly made even more of his mark with his groundwork.

So, who has what left?

I think it’s fairly close, but Bardsley and the oddsmakers have it right. Nogueira’s boxing has relied on a certain timing which has deteriorated in time more than Rua’s skills (and power — which is, they all say, the last thing to go).

Look for Rua to bring Nogueira to the mat early on and begin a ground-and-pound assault. The Nogueira of ten years ago caused problems with his jiu-jitsu and boxing, but he’s just a step behind now, and his chin has begun giving out. Rua has enough to skill to keep Nogueira on the mat and punish his way to a third round TKO stoppage.

As always, enjoy the fights!