MMA deity Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is set to take on Dave Herman at UFC 153 on October 13th. With a victory, Nogueira will add another chapter to the legendary story of his career, an epic that is as whimsical and improbable as it is lengthy.
Long revered for his ability, and what almost seems like a preference to absorb punishment in exchange for victory, Nogueira has cultivated his fighting image by taking the best shots of the best heavyweights in the world, and sending them on their way.
While Nogueira's reckless tactics, once iron jaw and otherworldly passion to prevail has endeared him to MMA fans of all kinds, the tools he's relied on are not ones that promote career longevity, and Minotauro now finds himself treading water in a deep UFC heavyweight pool.
Over his last five contests, Nogueira has amassed a 2-3 record. While his recent lack of success is only somewhat alarming, the fact he's been stopped in each loss—something he avoided over the previous 37 fights of his career—really drives home the point that he's no longer what he used to be.
In the twilight of his career Nogueira finds himself a master craftsman with nothing to rely on but tools blunted by overuse. No longer can he take damage and prevail, snatching victory from the midst of his opponent’s onslaught the way he used to.
And, at age 36, Nogueira is too old and conditioned to reinvent himself as a competitor. The blunt tools he now wields are the only ones he’s comfortable using—alternatives too unfamiliar to be successfully adopted in time to make an impact.
But, Nogueira is still a master craftsman all the same, capable of producing some nice results now and again, even with over-worked instruments. And by no means is he done producing.
Nogueira is still quite capable of putting up staunch resistance against great heavyweight fighters, and is even capable of defeating some good ones. The latter capacity is particularly relevant to Minotauro's UFC 153 fight, as opponent Dave Herman is more good than great.
Against Herman, Nogueira will have the opportunity to show off what he is still capable of doing. He could conceivably win the fight; in fact, he enters the bout as a decided favorite.
But even if he is able to churn out a result that’s reminiscence of his former masterpieces, remember the divide between good and great is significant, and that yet still beyond great, lies the elite.
Nogueira's days of competing at the pinnacle of heavyweight mixed martial arts are, sadly, over. He can no longer succeed against the best with his battle-weary chin, diminishing speed and predictable tactics.
Sure, his heart and lingering abilities will carry him for awhile against some tough opponents, but the best are now simply out of his league.