Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - It wasn’t in Manila, but Saturday night at the Rose Garden Arena, mixed martial arts had its “Thrilla”, as veteran heavyweight legends Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture turned back the clock like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did in 1975, reminding fight fans just what greatness is in a three round war won by Nogueira in the main event of UFC 102.
By Thomas Gerbasi
PORTLAND, OR, AUGUST 29 – It wasn’t in Manila, but Saturday night at the Rose Garden Arena, mixed martial arts had its “Thrilla”, as veteran heavyweight legends Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Randy Couture turned back the clock like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did in 1975, reminding fight fans just what greatness is in a three round war won by Nogueira in the main event of UFC 102.
“It was beautiful to fight him,” said Nogueira, the only man in history to hold the UFC and PRIDE heavyweight titles. “He’s a true champion and he’s one of my idols. It was a beautiful show today.”
“I’m disappointed about losing, but you gotta love this sport,” said Couture, a three time heavyweight and two-time light heavyweight champion.
Both Nogueira and Couture were coming off losses - the 33-year old Nogueira to Frank Mir last December, and the 46-year old Couture to Brock Lesnar – leading many to wonder whether the two had hit the end of the line in their storied careers. But as the old fight game adage goes, the great ones always have one great fight left in them.
And that’s what we saw tonight, as Nogueira outpointed Couture by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28 in a fight that was much more competitive and drama-filled than the 30-27 numbers would indicate.
The bout began with a spirited standup exchange, and the pace remained high in the early going, with Couture beating Nogueira to the punch. Nogueira remained patient though and soon hit paydirt, dropping Couture with a hard right hand. Nogueira then almost finished things with a choke while on the mat, but Couture gamely fought his way free and the two rose and exchanged punches, with Couture cutting Nogueira over the left eye. As the round entered its final two minutes, the two heavyweights traded blow after blow as the crowd rose to its feet, and one of the best rounds of the year ended with a stalemate along the fence and Couture going back to his corner with a mouse under his eye and Nogueira needing work on the cut over his eye.
Nogueira hurt Couture again early in the second round, but he slipped as he tried to pull guard for the submission, and Couture took advantage by following Nogueira to the mat and firing away with his trademark ground and pound attack, as the crowd roared with each shot landed by the hometown favorite. But just when things looked bad for Nogueira, “Minotauro” reversed and got into the mount position. Couture was able to improve his position, but Nogueira kept working, getting into the mount again with two minutes left. While there, Nogueria fired away, but in an ensuing scramble with a minute left, Couture got to his feet and the two again traded haymakers until the bell.
Going on the attack immediately to start round three, Nogueira dropped Couture hard with a right hand, and the follow-up barrage looked to be the one to finish off ‘The Natural’, but Couture, showing the resilience that has always been Nogueira’s trademark, survived the assault and looked to pull off the miracle comeback. But with a cut now over his right eye, Couture was running out of time, and Nogueira wanted to shorten that time even more as he got Couture’s back and looked for a choke. The crowd erupted, trying to will their man to victory, and with 90 seconds left, Couture escaped and got into Nogueira’s guard. “Minotauro” gripped Couture tight, hoping to force a standup while nullifying his opponent’s ground and pound, but that was not to be, and though Couture ended the bout with a flourish, a win was not in the cards tonight. But “The Natural” still insists that he has plenty of fight left in him.
“What keeps me going is guys like Nogueira and interesting fights,” said Couture. “We’ll let the dust settle, take a week, and see what the UFC wants to do. I’m here and I’m ready to fight.”
As for Nogueira, his intentions are clear after his latest career resurrection.
“I want a title belt,” he said. “I’d like a chance to fight against Lesnar.”
With the win, Nogueira improves to 32-5-1 with 1 NC; Couture falls to 16-10.