A legend continues to shine.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fought for the first time in ten months at this past weekend's UFC 153 card in Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil. Against Nogueira was very credible middle-of-the-pack heavyweight named Dave Herman. Herman came into his fight with Nogueira with a 21-4 record as a pro mixed martial artist. The Rio crowd was in a frenzy to welcome one of its heroes back to the sport the same way they did for Nogueira just over a year ago when he returned from a long hiatus.
Back then, at UFC 134 in Rio, Nogueira was returning from over a year off due to various injuries. He faced Brendan Schaub and TKO'd Schaub in less than four minutes thanks to better-than-normal striking. Nogueira fought once more after beating Schaub, that fight being a rematch against Frank Mir last December. In that fight, Mir broke Nogeuira's left arm while executing a kimura. The injury forced Nogueira off a scheduled fight against Cheick Congo back in July and be out of action until UFC 153.
Last Saturday night, Nogueira didn't seem to show that much rust after being out for nearly a year and only in his third fight in the last two years. Any rust at all showed in round one when Nogueira seemed to be easing himself into his strategy, throwing, but not being too aggressive about it. He did eat plenty of kicks from Herman during the round though, but seemed content with how the round progressed.
Nogueira scored a great knockdown with a combination to start round two. Then he went to work on the ground. Nogueira nearly got an armbar on Herman during the two minutes he had him on the canvas. Herman eventually got out of Nogueira's grip and made it back to his feet. The fight got back to the ground fairly soon after when Nogueira scored a trip takedown on Herman and immediately got full mount. From there, it was only a matter of time before Nogueira secured an armbar and got a submission victory in his return in the cage.
As for what's next, retirement isn't an option. Nogueira made it clear in post-fight interviews that he isn't thinking about retiring, only about fighting. With that in mind, where does Big Nog fit into the UFC heavyweight division as of now?
With two losses to Mir, that fight won't be made again. And considering how Cain Velasquez KO'd Nogueira when the two fought in 2010, a rematch between the two likely won't be made even if Velasquez fails in his challenge for the heavyweight title this December. It seems that Nogueira has to be considered a middle-of-the-pack heavyweight at the moment because of how little he's been fighting in recent years due to accumulated injuries as well as the fact that Nogueira's most recent losses have been against people closer to the top of the heavyweight division.
Cheick Congo was a good opponent for Big Nog back in July and would still be a good opponent. The Carwin/Nelson winner wouldn't be a bad choice for Big Nog either. Maybe UFC could give the MMA fans of Japan a dream fight with Nogueira and Mark Hunt if they head back to Japan in 2013. There are plenty of fights to be made with Big Nog. If he wants fights, he's shown that he should get fights. It still doesn't seem likely that Nogueira will challenge for the UFC heavyweight title during the remainder of his career, but if he stays around long enough and keeps winning, who knows.
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