UFC Fight Night 39: It's Do-or-Die Time for Minotauro Nogueira

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in the ring for his bout with Frank Mir for the UFC heavyweight mixed martial arts championship match Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008 at The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Eric Jamison

The sharks are a-circlin'.

Not even the ones you see in the Octagon on a seemingly weekly basis. Actually, aside from one heavyweight, mullet-clad slugger, those sharks are the least of the concerns at the moment.

No, the sharks in question are all over the MMA community. They're waiting to feed on failure, waiting to smell blood in the water so they can get their fill.

And Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira is out for a swim, treading water and oblivious to those sharks so invested in the outcome of his headliner against Roy Nelson at Fight Night 39.

You see, for all the love and the admiration that the legend engenders from fans around the globe, he's become a nearly tragic figure in the dying light of his MMA career. His own competitive will keeps him coming back to the cage, his own undying heart sees him still winning some fights there, and yet, people still sit waiting for something bad to come his way.

Perhaps, it's because he moves like a geriatric and has endured more punishment in his 37 years than most people would go through in three lifetimes.

Perhaps, it's the intensity of his recent losses, punctuated by snapped limbs or violent knockouts that simply didn't happen to him in his prime.

Perhaps, it's the feeling that, for every time he escapes with "bad but could have been worse," he gets closer to escaping with just plain "bad," and that could have irreversible, negative consequences on his life beyond the cage.

Whatever it is, people love Nogueira, but they're largely waiting for the other shoe to drop on his career. They are indeed just a-circlin', waiting for it all to go south so they can implore him that he's done enough and beg him to retire.

The fact is that, when faced with similar situations in the past, Nogueira has risen to the occasion. Most thought he was done when Cain Velasquez effortlessly stopped him; most thought he was done when Frank Mir snapped his arm in half, and most think he's done now.

And yet, after the Velasquez and Mir losses, Nogueira returned fire by obliterating Brendan Schaub and subbing Dave Herman, respectively. Does the reading of those tea leaves tell us anything, considering his last loss was another disgusting submission injury at the hands of Fabricio Werdum?

Maybe, maybe not.

That's why, against Nelson, it truly is do-or-die time for the Brazilian megastar. If he loses in Abu Dhabi, it will be two in a row and five of his last eight, with those eight fights dragged out across nearly six years.

He's simply been too banged up and inactive to get any momentum, and with a loss to Nelson, he'll be so far down the pecking order that time and his own body will likely betray him right out of relevance.

A win though? Perhaps one that he escapes with little more than some bumps and bruises? He could fight again by the end of the year, and with a win, he could actually break into the top five in one of the promotion's thinnest divisions.

Big Nog on the title warpath? It unquestionably seems far-fetched, probably even outrageous. But in a division where fights can end with a single shot and there aren't enough top-level guys to flesh out a deep list of contenders, it's not totally impossible.

But that relative pipe dream starts with a win over Nelson. If he cannot get it going there, it might well mark a nearing of the end of his road. You'll never take the fight out of Nogueira, for even if he's not a contender, he'll always be a competitor. You'll have to pry his gloves from his cold, dead hands.

Fight Night 39 may be his last real chance to sink or swim though, so rest assured, those sharks will be watching to see which it is.