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UFC 102:

Antonio Nogueira proves he’s still a force in the heavyweight division

Image

Associated Press

Antonio Nogueira, right, celebrates his victory over Randy Couture at UFC 102 mixed martial arts match Saturday in Portland, Ore.

One Great Fight

In the main event of UFC 102, Antonio Nogueira defeated Randy Couture by unanimous decision. Post fight it was announced that Couture resigned with the UFC a six-fight, 28-month deal.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Think about what Antonio Nogueira had to go through over the past few months.

He finally received a long-awaited fight with his idol, Randy Couture, only to find out that it would be in Couture’s hometown where he would face an enormous crowd cheering against him.

Then he was lumped into a running storyline that this fight was between two old fighters who were possibly past their primes — even though, at 33, he’s 13 years younger than Couture.

He was also facing added pressure to prove himself after suffering the first knockout loss of his career to Frank Mir last December.

Nevertheless, under arguably the most unfavorable circumstances and pressure the former PRIDE and UFC heavyweight champion had ever faced, Nogueira went out and dominated his opponent Saturday night.

“If it wasn’t for the people that said, ‘You’re done, you can’t come back,’ I may not have worked like I did,” Nogueira said. “I’ve never worked in my life like I did for this fight.”

Nogueira needed every bit of that hard training to stay on top of a fight in which Couture simply refused to go away.

It seemed as though the Brazilian fighter was constantly on the verge of ending the fight before Couture either escaped a submission or recovered from a hard shot.

UFC President Dana White admitted there were numerous times in the fight he was ready to count Couture out.

“I thought he was done 10 times,” White said. “I thought he was done in the beginning when he got knocked down. I thought he was done when Nog was putting submissions on him. I thought he was done when he got in the mount. There were so many times I thought Randy was done and he wasn’t.”

And every time Couture proved he wasn’t done, there was the hometown crowd to rally behind him.

It was a big crowd too — 16,088 big.

According to White, it was one of the loudest ever.

“I’ve been to a lot of loud UFC fights and that’s the first one where it was like concert loud,” White said. “My ears are still ringing.”

But as much as the crowd tried, they could not stop Nogueira from coming up with an answer to everything Couture tried in the Octagon. He won every round on two judges' scorecards and two rounds on the third.

Before Saturday, Couture himself admitted that he believed he would have the advantage in striking, given his boxing background.

It was also widely accepted that as long as Couture was the one moving the fight to the ground, his wrestling would give him an edge there over Nogueira’s Jiu-Jitsu.

However neither was the case, as Nogueira seemed in control in every aspect of the fight — especially in striking, where he twice floored Couture and rarely took on too much damage doing it.

“He was pretty much what I expected, although I thought I’d do better on my feet,” Couture said. “He had a great jab and hit me with some pretty good right hands tonight.”

The reason behind Couture’s perceived advantage in the striking aspect stemmed largely from Nogueira’s last fight, where he appeared sluggish and uncomfortable with the standup striking of Mir.

Although it was rumored that Nogueira had been battling injuries before that fight, few blamed his performance on poor health, mostly because the fighter had been so quiet about his ailments.

On Saturday, Nogueira finally went into detail on all the medical issues he suffered through in December.

“I had staph infection. I went to the hospital for seven days just 20 days before the fight,” Nogueira said. “Then I suffered a torn meniscus in my left leg which I had to have surgery on after that fight.

“Staph takes all your endurance out so I was very weak. I had a fever. It affected the outcome of that fight. We still put on a show but it was definitely a tough fight for me.”

With the announcement of a contract extension for Couture and the excitement of the UFC heavyweight showdown between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin in November, Nogueira still probably won’t get the respect and vindication he deserves for what he accomplished Saturday.

But according to the fighter himself, defeating a legend and coming back strong and healthy is all he needs to take from this weekend.

“For sure this was the most important fight of my life,” he said. “It wasn’t a title shot, but it was fighting against a legend of the sport. Randy is a true hero and it was a great honor for me to fight against him.

“It was an amazing fight, I was really enjoying it.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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