If you were a die-hard Pride fanatic, than UFC 92 in December of 2008 was a night you probably want to forget.
You know the old saying “Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes it gets you"? Well if you were an MMA fan who always pulled for “the good guy,” UFC 92 was a night where the bear got you, chewed you up, swallowed you, and left you as little raisin-sized droppings in the woods.
Watching Pride mainstay and MMA hero Wanderlei Silva get stretched in the trilogy fight with a “post-Red Bull binge rampage” Rampage Jackson was tough. Watching the original TUF winner and everyman champ Forrest Griffin drop his title to the juke-jivin’, trash talking Rashad Evans stung even more, I’m sure.
But to the hardcore fan, the dyed-in-the-wool Japanophile, nothing was as worse as seeing the fall of “Minotauro”.
Coming into his UFC 92 match with frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was riding a three-fight win streak, had just come off a successful season as coach of “The Ultimate Fighter”, and was the reigning UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion. There were even those who had him in the conversation for “Greatest Heavyweight of all time”. For Big Nog, everything was coming up Milhouse, to use a “Simpsons” reference.
And Frank Mir? He was coming off a win over some guy named Brock, but aside from that he looked just about spent as an elite level fighter. Memories of his domination at the hands of LHW Brandon Vera were still fresh in fans minds.
And besides, what advantage did Mir hold on paper? Boxing? Not against Nogueira’s legendary chin. BJJ? Against the best Jiu-Jitsu player in the division? I think not.
Then the fight went down, and every prediction and prognostication of fans and media alike fell apart. Looking light on his feet, Mir danced around popping off shots while a sluggish and out of shape Nog followed Mir around, blocking punches with his face. When Mir dropped Nogueira, fans were stunned. When he dropped him again—still only in the first round—they were flabbergasted.
Still, fans held out hope. This was “Minotauro”, after all. This was a man who built his legend on taking a savage beating only to come back, time after time, with a miracle submission. Coming into the second round, there was still hope that this was just Nog being Nog.
Frank Mir crushed those dreams, and the second frame played out just like the first. Mir lands, Nog plods forward, Mir slips punches and lands again, wash rinse and repeat. When Nogueira fell to the canvas in this round, he didn’t get back up. Mir swarmed him with punches, and just like that, a spent, over the hill heavyweight with questionable striking had handed Nogueira his first ever stoppage loss.
That win single-handedly re-launched Frank Mir’s career as an elite level heavyweight. It also cast the dreaded title of “over the hill” onto Nogueira for the first time, something he has tried to shake off ever since.
Of course, the controversy didn’t end with the fight itself. Afterwards, we learned that Nogueira was battling a serious staph infection, which may have affected his performance during the fight. Longtime fans immediately flocked to this
excuse reason why Mir so easily handled Nog that night.
Of course, this explanation has PO’ed Frank Mir to no end, as it discredits one of the biggest wins of his career. And hey, I can’t exactly say I blame him.
Do I buy the staph infection excuse? I don’t know. I’m not Big Nog, after all, and thus I have no way of really knowing how sick he was while training for the Mir fight. I do know he is widely regarded as one of the most honorable men in the sport, loathe to simply spout off at the mouth following a loss. I also know he is the type of fighter who—for good or ill—will fight injured rather than disappoint the fans.
Yet finally, I also know that just before the fight, the referee turned to Nog, asked him “are you ready?” and that he answered in the affirmative. All post-fight excuse making pretty much goes out the window at that point.
So now we’re faced with the rematch both fans and fighters have long been waiting for. At UFC 140 in Toronto, these two men will settle the score once and for all. Though their last fight was for a title, as far as their respective careers go this may be the most important fight.
Both guys are coming off impressive wins. Both guys want badly to be back “in the mix” at heavyweight. And both guys know a win will send them there while a loss could derail their title aspirations forever.
Can Big Nog avenge the biggest loss of his career? I have no idea—but I can’t wait to find out.