UFC 110 - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Cain Velasquez - Heavyweight Bout
The first leg of the UFC's Heavyweight division mini-tournament sees the man widely considered to be the number two heavyweight of all time taking on an up-and-comer who has bulldozed his opponents so far in compiling a record of 7-0.
The other "semi-final" sees Frank Mir fighting Shane Carwin, with the winner of that fight getting a title shot at a fit-again Brock Lesnar, and the winner of this fight taking on the last man standing.
Noguiera will feel he should have arrived at a full title shot sooner, having taken the interim belt from Tim Sylvia, but his loss to Mir moved him significantly down the pecking order. The 32-5-1-1 Minotauro has since explained how a severe staph infection limited his performance opposite Mir, born out by the fact that this was his first TKO loss. Ever. In 39 fights. It was also only the 8/11 favourite's third defeat to anyone not named Fedor Emilianenko.
Minotauro has amassed much of his stellar record in the Pride fighting championships, and has continued to cement his status as one of the greats of MMA since joining the UFC. His win over Randy Couture was one of the most exciting fights of recent times, and his motivation for getting past Velasquez will surely include the chance to avenge his loss to Mir. Nogueira is recognised as the best BJJ exponent in the division, and he can be expected to put his skills to use against Cain. Whilst Nogueira can box and has an identical reach to the Californian, his submission skills and ability fighting from the bottom are the relevant factors in making him the favourite in this bout.
Collegiate wrestling champion Velasquez has all the athletic and physical gifts required in a sub-Lesnar heavyweight, yet he struggled to finish his fight against Cheick Kongo despite controlling the Frenchman for three rounds, and it has been said that his punches lack knockout power.
Cain was also dominant against his last opponent Ben Rothwell and was given a TKO stoppage victory, but Rothwell argued, with a valid case, that he was not hurt sufficiently for the fight to have been stopped.
Nogueira is famous for being able to absorb punches and come back stronger, and Cain may find that he needs to capitalise more on openings than he has done previously, and pick more damaging shots rather than rely on volume of punches landed. Nogueira has survived assaults from Fedor, Josh Barnett and Japanese freak-show fighter, ex NFL player, the 350lb Bob Sapp, and survived to tell the tale so he may feel that Cain's punches are nothing to fear.
Cain should be able to take down Nogueira at times of his choosing; whilst Big Nog has a capable take down defence, Velasquez' wrestling is of a standard that he should be able to dictate where the fight happens, and if he is sufficiently confident he will stick to his tried and tested ground and pound game plan. With the fight evenly matched on the feet, Nogueira will be happy to go to the mat and employ his array of sweeps and submission attempts from the bottom to catch Cain off guard and grab a tap out victory.
I feel that Nogueira has more ways of finishing this fight and it will need to be either a perfect performance from Velasquez or a significantly under-par one from Nog for Cain to snatch the win. The 8/11 available about Minotauro looks good value to me, I hope to see Nog catching an armbar from the bottom late in the second round and handing Velasquez his first career defeat.