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2000-09 in MMA: Top 50 Fights Of The Decade


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#14 - Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - UFC 102 - Aug 29th 2009

This was a real UFC vs Pride dream match. It was never talked about like say Couture vs Fedor or Chuck vs Wanderlei but it was definitely a fight that people wanted to see. We were meant to get Couture vs Cro Cop in 2007 but Gabriel Gonzaga ballsed that up. Pisses me off to this day. But I’m glad we at least got to see Randy square off with ONE of Pride’s 3 Heavyweight Kings.

Came at a bit of a funny point in both their careers though. Randy had rescued the Heavyweight division from the clutches of Tim Sylvia in early 2007 (no, I won’t leave him alone Jim) and, after slaying Gonzaga that summer, became embroiled in a bitter and public contract dispute with Dana White and Zuffa. He sat on the sidelines for over a year before fences were finally mended and he returned.

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The landscape of the division had changed in his absence and at UFC 91 in November 2008, he defended the title against Brock Lesnar. Despite Brock’s inexperience, the size difference was pretty insane with Randy being an average sized 205er and Brock being...Brock. Unfortunately for Couture, despite putting up a pretty good fight, coming back from a 15 month layoff against a younger, much bigger, much stronger wrestler was too much of an ask and Brock put him away with a second round TKO.

For Big Nog, there was a lot to prove. He’d built up such a strong reputation in Pride. He came to the UFC and fought Heath Herring for a third time in his debut and survived a horrendous headkick in the first round to dominate Herring to a decision. He then scored another come from behind victory when he submitted Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 in February 2008 to become Interim Champ. They weren’t his best performances but they were vintage Nogueira really. He was notorious for his toughness and ability to pull wins from the jaws of defeat. So the Herring and Sylvia wins just strengthened his legendary status that bit further. He was then pitted against Frank Mir as coaches for The Ultimate Fighter Season 8, with the 2 set to clash at UFC 92 in December. It was a really fun season and Big Nog came off as an even more loveable guy than even his fans had previously thought. And opposite a smug nob like Mir, it was even more amplified. Nog came into the Mir fight as the ultimate babyface. And a win would set him up for a blockbuster title unification bout with Brock Lesnar in 2009. But...

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FUCK YOU FRANK! 

Still one of the most deflating and disappointing fights ever for me. Can’t even knock Mir, as much as I want to, he did what he was supposed to do. But Nog came in looking like a zombie in quicksand. He’d had staph infection during camp and had been hospitalised for 5 days. He’d also suffered a knee injury around the same time. People can say excuses but you can’t watch that fight and tell me something wasn’t wrong with Nog. He’s lost fights at other points in his career but he never looked as bad as he did on this night to me. Worst performance of his entire career. Again, not Mir’s fault. He could only fight the Nogueira that turned up. It just so happened that the Nogueira that turned up that night might as well have had ‘Everlast’ printed on his back because he put up all the resistance of a punchbag. It was the first time Nogueira had been stopped in 37 fights and it fucking sucked. What made it even more of a downer was that Wanderlei had just got flattened by Rampage earlier on the card as well. Needless to say, UFC 92 hasn’t had many replays in the House Of Wand.

So it was set. Couture vs Nogueira. No titles, no real stakes. No real history there other than Nog respectfully calling out ‘Handy’ after he beat Sylvia. It was just a fun fight for the sake of a fun fight. But both had something to prove after both coming off stoppage losses. There were doubts on what both men had left in the tank at this point in time. So although it was a cool piece of matchmaking, expectations weren’t particularly high going in. I don’t think anybody really knew quite what to expect.

“Two legends of the sport. Former Heavyweight champion and former Light Heavyweight champion, Randy Couture. Against the only man to ever hold the Pride Heavyweight championship and the UFC Heavyweight championship, Minotauro Nogueira.” - Dana White

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Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira 

UFC 102: Couture vs Nogueira

August 29th 2009

Portland, Oregon

A home game for Randy in Portland. Team Quest stomping grounds. And the crowd are fucking loving him during the Buffer intros and all that malarkey. Proper electric atmosphere. They’re even booing Nog. Get fucked Portland.

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Round 1: Couture looking quite sharp in the early punching exchanges. The ‘RANDY’ chants start and Nog answers by smacking their hero in the gob. Ha. Nog tries to pull guard and Couture’s having none of it. Bit of clinch work and then it happens...

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Couture is down. And Nog is immediately all the fuck over him. You could almost hear 15,000 Portland arses go at the moment Randy hit the deck. Nogueira’s going for a D’Arce choke!

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Randy’s in deep shit here. Goldberg sounds sad about this. He fucking hated when Pride fighters had success against UFC poster boys around this time. And he didn’t try to hide it at all. Meanwhile Rogan is screeching ‘HE’S GOT IT! HE’S GOT IT, MIKE.’ Randy’s head looks about ready to pop like a zit but Nog mustn’t feel like he’s got it because he lets go. Couture has survived somehow and the crowd is going bananas.

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They’re really going at it now. Back and forth with both landing pretty flush. The commentators are finally giving Nogueira his due and rightly pointing out that Nog looks so much better here than in that depressing showing against Frank Mir.

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Little homage to Frye vs Takayama as the round draws to a close. This is fucking awesome. Haven’t seen it in a good decade and it’s holding up to my memory of it and then some. Nog 10-9. Fantastic round.

Round 2: Shawn Tompkins was telling Randy between rounds to work the jab more but it’s seconds into the round and they’re both just trading. Nog is getting the better of it though.

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Nog grabs a front facelock and drops back for a guillotine but Randy’s head slips out on the way down so now Randy is on top. Not exactly a nightmare for someone with as good a guard as Nogueira but still a costly mistake as Randy was always good at stealing rounds just by holding that position, not taking risks and just chipping away with little punches. The crowd is erupting every time Randy lands a short elbow or drops a hammerfist from about 3 inches as if he’s destroying Nog. They really loved ol’ Randy in Portland. Nog don’t give a fuck about their love though and out of nowhere just sweeps into mount...

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Fucking beautiful. Even the partisan crowd started oohing and aahing in appreciation of that, before remembering which side they were on and booing again. Nog goes to work on top and Randy has a look on his face like ‘how did I fuck this up?’ Now Nog’s going for the arm triangle...

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Couture is battling and battling it as Mike Goldberg sounds like his dreams are being crushed. Some professionalism please, Michael. Randy survives yet again and they’re back on their feet. Nog boxing him up but Randy lands a counter left hook in the exchange that rocks Nog’s head back. Both landing at the end. Nog 10-9 again.

Round 3: Randy comes out landing some nice shots. But Nog returns fire and his punches just seem to have more pop. He backs Randy up and fucking clobbers him...

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A much heavier knockdown than the one in the first round. Randy went down like a stack of cards. Watching live, I remember being certain it was over. But Randy somehow got through this and the follow up ground and pound. He’s still in the fight.

“Nogueira is putting a beating on Randy Couture. This is the Minotauro in shape, motivated and healthy. He’s an animal. He’s one of the greatest of all time.” - Joe Rogan

Nog passes to side control. Randy is bleeding. The crowd is booing loudly now. They know what’s up. Their boy is getting spanked. Man, Randy merely gets to his hip and the crowd starts cheering. This is Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia type crowd love. Nog takes his back but he’s too high up and Randy slips out the back and ends up on top. Crowd goes apeshit as Randy drops punches with a minute and change left in the fight. Elbows from ‘The Natural’. Nog hits that cool sweep into mount again right as the buzzer goes. It’s all over. Nog 10-9 again for me. So I’ve got it 30-27 for him. Probably the best 30-27 fight you’ll ever see, to be honest.

Winner - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by unanimous decision.

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Bloody magnificent. Always thought of it as one of my favourite Heavyweight fights ever but rewatching it just solidifies it. Easily in my Top 5 Heavyweight MMA fights of all time. And I’m so glad it happened in Portland because that crowd took it to another level and made it feel way more special than it would’ve in Vegas like just another card. Because of their love for Randy, they were absolutely invested in this. On the flipside, I love the gangsterness of Big Nog walking into Couture’s territory and putting it to him the way he did. Nog had a few other bright moments late in his career (Schaub faceplant LOL) but this, for me, was his last truly great night in terms of an all around performance against a top level opponent. Couture was a great from the same era as him, who was looked at as kind of a UFC counterpart to him when he was in Pride, and Nog rose to the occasion and conquered him.

Nog definitely won. I do actually remember some arguing at the time that Randy should’ve got the decision, which baffled the shite out of me then and still does now. There’s just no way. He fought his arse off but he also got knocked down twice and spent the bulk of the rest of it trying to survive submissions or getting mounted and sweeped like fuck. But regardless, Couture was competitive enough that it was still a great battle, edge of the seat all the way. I wish it was 5 rounds. If it was I think it’d be held in even higher regard and either Randy would’ve rallied and made a comeback on pure conditioning or (more likely) Nog would’ve eventually finished him. What a tremendous fight though. A joy to watch.

Edited by wandshogun09
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1 hour ago, wandshogun09 said:

But Nog came in looking like a zombie in quicksand. He’d had staph infection during camp and had been hospitalised for 5 days. He’d also suffered a knee injury around the same time.

In early 2007, it was believed that Big Nog wouldn't be able to get licensed to fight in the US. By 2006, he only had 40% vision left in one of his eyes. He decided to have a procedure to try and restore it to 100%. However, the procedure only worsened the issue and he was left with only 10-20% vision in that eye. 

In retrospect, it is little wonder that his body started to fail him in the UFC. His style of fighting was not made for a long career. He was always hittable, even in his prime. And his lack of offensive takedowns meant that he often found himself on his back, and vulnerable to ground and pound (see his first bout with Fedor). 

He was also one of the very few fighters in that era who didn't use HGH or steroids. When you consider he fought suspected PED users such as Sapp, Fedor, Cro Cop, Barnett, and Couture - it's crazy that he didn't seek to even the playing field a bit by juicing himself. 

I'm not a fanboy of his or anything. I much prefer Couture and Barnett to him as fighters. But he's a true legend of the game.

Edited by jimufctna24
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8 minutes ago, jimufctna24 said:

 

He was also one of the very few fighters in that era who didn't use HGH or steroids. When you consider he fought suspected PED users such as Sapp, Fedor, Cro Cop, Barnett, and Couture - it's crazy that he didn't seek to even the playing field a bit by juicing himself. 

 

says who? 

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I knew Nog had serious vision problems later in his career but didn’t realise it was an issue as early as that, or as bad as 10-20% vision in the one eye.

Although, given that he’d had a truck roll over him and mangle his body as a kid, it’s a miracle he was even alive. Let alone walking. Let alone fighting. Let alone being one of the best Heavyweights of all time! So it’s no surprise that a little thing like badly impaired eyesight didn’t put him off. 

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25 minutes ago, Egg Shen said:

says who? 

Pride officials believed that only Hendo and Big Nog were clean. 

Quote

 

According to Henderson, the lack of comprehensive drug testing was not only acknowledged, but existed as a protective measure for the promotion.

“PRIDE was what it is,” Henderson said. “I had asked about drug testing. They’d always drug test you over there, but it wasn’t for that. It was more for recreational drugs, cocaine and stuff like that. It was more for show. They made a comment that they’d probably only had a couple fighters, me and – I think they said, (Antonio Rodrigo) Nogueira would be the only fighters they had left if that was the case. Who knows what everybody was doing? All I know is that I’m happy they’re doing it now.” - https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2015/04/dan-henderson-on-pride-drug-testing-and-ufc-being-too-easy-on-jon-jones

 

Insiders at the time were convinced that Hendo was clean. For Nogueira to be mentioned alongside him, is quite the endorsement. 

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22 hours ago, wandshogun09 said:

#14 - Randy Couture vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - UFC 102 - Aug 29th 2009

Another great write up, thanks.

I had to re-watch it after reading this though as it turns out my memory of the fight was completely wrong. I'd remembered it as Nogueira completely dominating and finishing Couture in the 2nd after hitting that sweep.

At least I'd remembered the sweep correctly. Beautiful and effortless, though I'm still 100% sure how he did it even after watching that gif a dozen times.

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#13 - Wanderlei Silva vs Rampage Jackson 2 - Pride 28 - Oct 31st 2004

This one’s a bit of a no brainer. One of the most memorable and legendary rivalries in MMA history and this is the best fight of the bunch.

It all started at Pride 25 on the night of March 16th 2003. Rampage had just beat Kevin Randleman and after the fight he gestured to Wanderlei, who was Pride’s Middleweight champion at the time, sitting at ringside. Wandy being the nutcase he was back then, jumped straight in the ring and chaos ensued...

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The ring quickly filled up and it nearly kicked off a huge battle royal style brawl. And from there, it was on. Lots of shit talking and threats back and forth. Mostly from Rampage. This video was everywhere at the time following the push in the gif above.

Rampage never shut up about it. As soon as Wandy shoved Rampage, that fight was inevitable. It was everything Pride loved and it fell right in their lap. But they both had other business to sort out before they could square off. They were both entered into the Middleweight Grand Prix Tournament which was kicking off in the summer. At Total Elimination in August, Wanderlei knocked out Sakuraba (again) and Rampage edged a close decision against Murilo Bustamante to advance to the Semi Finals in November.

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At Final Conflict, Wandy beat Hidehiko Yoshida and Rampage battered Chuck Liddell into crumbs in front of a heartbroken Dana White. The finals were set. Wanderlei and Rampage would finally go nose to nose.

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And Wandy beat the absolute shite out of him. It was all over in about 6 minutes. And the final onslaught Wand unleashed on him was insane. Rewatching now, 17 years after the fact, does nothing to lessen the brutality of it. Watching the finish again just now, from the beginning of the final flurry until the referee waves it off, I counted 17 unanswered knees to the head and body, a bunch of punches and a few soccer kicks thrown in for good measure. It was a complete mugging and Rampage was all lumped up after the fight.

They both moved on. Wandy continued wreaking havoc by scoring a quick knockout over Ikuhisa Minowa and stomping Yuki Kondo’s head in. Rampage bounced back well with his own win over Minowa plus the highlight reel powerbomb KO of Ricardo Arona.

The shit talking had never stopped between Wandy and Rampage this whole time. Rampage had his excuses for the loss the first time, as he always did. And Wanderlei seemed to welcome the opportunity to get to smash his face again. The bad blood had only intensified and with both coming off strong wins, the rematch was set. And this time it would be for the title.

“Personally, I don’t think anything about him. I just don’t like him. I’ll face him like any other opponent. I’m going to knock him out again and this will be a very aggressive fight.” - Wanderlei Silva 

— — — — —

“I’m not here for people to like me. I’m glad he don’t like me. He’s been on a winning streak too long. You can’t be on top forever. He’s had his day, now it’s time for him to lose. He whooped my ass! It’s time for me to return the favour.” - Rampage Jackson

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Wanderlei Silva (c) vs Rampage Jackson - Middleweight Title

Pride 28: High Octane 

October 31st 2004

Saitama, Japan

How fitting, after the horrifying finish in the first fight, that the rematch would go down on Halloween night.

National anthems first. Always liked that little touch for the big title fights, GP finals and stuff. Rampage is trying to be all cool, getting his phone out in the corner and pretending to be talking to someone when the Brazilian anthem starts. Cock. Wandy still looks like he’s chewing a wasp while he’s being all patriotic. 

Round 1: And we’re off! Like the first fight, Rampage gets off to a solid start, peppering Wand with knees to the body and dirty boxing from the clinch. Doesn’t take long for it to break down into all-out warfare though. Both have their moments early on but nothing hugely significant from either man. It’s good stuff though. You can just feel the hatred there and it’s just a matter of time until it really erupts. Wand starts opening up with the Thai clinch knees again and Rampage takes him down. Rampage works from the top but Wandy defends pretty well off his back and the ref eventually stands them up. It’s been fairly even on the feet until the last minute when all of a sudden...

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Rampage drops Wanderlei! He follows up with some ground and pound as Wand just tries to defend and survive the round. Rampage with a big knee to the head on the ground and some punches to put the exclamation point on a great opening round.

Round 2: There’s a real sense of urgency now from Wanderlei and he comes out all guns blazing and just windmilling rights and lefts at Rampage’s big basketball head. After a brief spell on the ground they’re back up and Wandy’s going to town with the old soccer kicks.

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Back on the feet and they’re trading heavy leather now. This must’ve been incredible to watch live. Sadly, we had to make do with getting tapes weeks and often months after the fact from online traders, by which time you’d know the results. Anyway, they’re both slinging bombs and Wand slips a right hook through that connects flush against Rampage’s head. This bastard...

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On the video you hear the thud of it clearly and, even knowing Rampage had a concrete noggin back then, I’m amazed he didn’t drop from that punch. But he’s badly rocked and that’s all Wandy needs to see. The floodgates have opened and Wand is swarming all the fuck over him with a barrage of strikes. He gets the Thai clinch and starts with the knees. He throws about 5 hard knees, most of them are hitting the arms but then one gets through and connects clean, sending Rampage’s limp body face first like Apollo Creed after the final Drago death blow.

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Needless to say, Rampage is out cold before he even hits the ground. It’s all over. Wanderlei Silva is still the Pride Middleweight champion. Still unbeaten in his 4 years in Pride. 

Winner - Wanderlei Silva by knockout. Round 2 - 3:26. 

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”WANDERLEI SILVA! DOES ANYONE POSSESS THE KRYPTONITE TO STOP PRIDE’S MIDDLEWEIGHT SUPERMAN!” - Mauro Ranallo

I’ve always loved this fight. The whole series between them has been a hell of a ride but this is the best fight of their rivalry by far. Unlike the first fight, they both came in fresh and it was more competitive and entertaining as a result. Not to mention the finish.

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That image is up there with the most memorable and iconic in Pride history.

With Wandy 2-0, the feud seemed dead in the water at this point. They both finished out their Pride stints with mixed results before jumping over to the UFC in 2007. Wandy lost to Chuck Liddell then rebounded by mauling Keith Jardine in seconds. And in the meantime, Rampage had won and lost the UFC Light Heavyweight strap and had that mad episode where he stayed up all night on energy drinks then thought he was in GTA and got the police chasing him through the streets of California.

In late 2008, it was announced that Wandy vs Rampage 3 was going down.

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Rampage finally got one back. It wasn’t much of a fight. They circled, circled some more, circled even more, then bang. A colossal left hook from Rampage connected and Wandy was flat on his back with his legs all stiff. Whole thing was done and dusted in 3 minutes. I was gutted. Wanderlei was fading by this point and I hated that he’d lost his perfect record against Rampage. He’d already won the trilogy 2-0. This just fucked that up. But it was some KO punch.

After that, they went on different paths for years. Wanderlei dropped to 185 and had a very up and down run. As always though, wildly entertaining. His fights with Brian Stann, Cung Le and Rich Franklin were awesome. But ultimately he went 3-4 after the KO loss to Rampage, got himself mixed up in USADA controversy and returned in 2017 to get blanketed by Chael Sonnen to a lopsided UD. Rampage had a few big fights with the likes of Jon Jones and Rashad Evans but it became clear by 2010/11 that he was pretty much done at the top level.

Then in 2018, out of the blue Scott Coker just said fuck it and booked Wanderlei vs Rampage 4 in Bellator. At Heavyweight! Bonkers. Still can’t quite believe it actually happened.

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By far the weakest fight of the rivalry but I’ll never not be drawn in by these two facing off. I don’t care. You could take a camera to a retirement home when they’re both in their 70s and I’ll still watch them scrap over the last Werther’s Original. Anyway, Rampage evened the score with a second round stoppage...

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Like I said, it wasn’t the best. They were both visibly older, slower, fatter versions of their once great selves and it showed. It wasn’t a bad fight, just nowhere near the bar their previous fights had set.

What a mad journey. A rivalry that spanned what 15 years, and 3 major MMA promotions. And despite the declining quality as the series went on, one thing you could count on is a big finish every time. And with it all tied now at 2-2, don’t be surprised to see Part 5 somewhere down the road. It’s going to happen, isn’t it? Probably in that Bare Knuckle fed. They should’ve both retired already but, sick as I might sound, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to Wanderlei vs Rampage 5 as both their swansong. A double retirement. It’d be oddly fitting for them to go out in one last fat old man brawl against each other. I don’t even think they hate each other anymore. You can tell there’s an underlying mutual respect there these days. And rightfully so after knocking lumps out of each other over the best part of the last 2 decades. 

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But it’s 2-2. They might as well settle it. 

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Rampage blamed his trainer (Colin Oyama) for that loss. They parted ways soon thereafter. Rampage then hooked up with Ibarra, who he also eventually fell out with. 

Gross wrote years later that Oyama and Ibarra brought the best out of Rampage. They didn't put up with his nonsense and forced him to train hard. Given how underwhelming Jackson's performances have been since splitting with Ibarra, it's safe to say that Gross was right. 

Edited by jimufctna24
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Yeah there was a lot of talk that Ibarra tried to or was scamming Rampage financially. Whether that’s true or just more Rampage excuse making who knows?

Was it the Shogun fight where Rampage suddenly found God and somehow blamed that for the loss? 😂 

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To be fair, that was quite a “come to Jesus meeting” as Steve Austin would say. 

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20 minutes ago, wandshogun09 said:

Yeah there was a lot of talk that Ibarra tried to or was scamming Rampage financially. Whether that’s true or just more Rampage excuse making who knows?

Was it the Shogun fight where Rampage suddenly found God and somehow blamed that for the loss? 😂 

(1) Aye, Tito Ortiz called Ibarra a "thief" and Rampage made similar comments. Ibarra then sued both for defamation of character. They came to a settlement in 2015 - https://www.mmafighting.com/2015/5/21/8640003/tito-ortiz-rampage-jackson-and-juanito-ibarra-settle-legal-disputes

Tito's comments in that article make it sound that Rampage was mistaken about Ibarra (or perhaps even lying about him).

(2) I had it in my head that Rampage had the "religious experience" that led to him "finding god" just before the 2nd loss to Wanderlei (which took place in October of 2004). The article below says he became a "born again" Christian in 2004. So either of us could be right. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/12/rampage/307152/

Edited by jimufctna24
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Posted (edited)

I think you might be right actually. Seem to recall him claiming a rib injury for the Shogun loss as well. Although Shogun could’ve inflicted that during the fight itself.

Backstage footage from after Wandy vs Rampage 2;

 

Edited by wandshogun09
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Posted (edited)

This has taken me way longer than I’d planned but I haven’t forgot about it. Started it when I was in lockdown, now I’m back at work I haven’t had much time to get back to it. I’m hoping to blast through this last 12 fights this week though. I’ll get there eventually.

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#12 - Diego Sanchez vs Clay Guida - The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale - Jun 20th 2009

Summer of ‘09. This was such a hot period for the UFC, and MMA in general really. 2005-2010 was a magical time to follow the sport. So much went on in that 5 year period. Including these two nutcases bursting on the scene. There was no real backstory or grudge to this fight. It was just one of those matchups that’s a no brainer. Two mad Mexican bastards who were having FOTY contenders for fun at the time. Why not throw them at each other? And people said matchmaker at the time Joe Silva was a genius. Anyone and everyone would’ve booked this fight.

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Diego had made his MMA debut in 2002 but it wasn’t until he appeared on the first season of TUF in 2005 that he really put himself on the map. He won that season as a Middleweight. People forget but Diego was technically THE original Ultimate Fighter. He won his final before Griffin and Bonnar started bleeding all over each other. Anyway, Diego dropped to 170 and went on a good run post-TUF, notching wins over Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan and Joe Riggs along the way. Going into 2007, he was 17-0 and on top of the world. Then he dropped back-to-back decisions to Koscheck and Fitch and that was his perfect record down the shitter. He bounced back with a couple of wins and dropped down to Lightweight in early 2009, beating Joe Stevenson in his 155 debut at UFC 95 in London. And here we were.

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Guida was 25-9 at this time and coming off a split decision over Nate Diaz. He’d been going since 2003 and had developed a reputation in his fairly short UFC stint for having wild and crazy fights because of his wars with Tyson Griffin and Roger Huerta in 2007. A lot of people might not realise but Guida was actually the first ever Strikeforce Lightweight champion and had fought both Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez before signing with Zuffa. He beat Thomson to become champ. So Guida had had his ups and downs but he was no chump. And as soon as it was announced he’d be fighting Diego Sanchez I think everyone knew something nutty was about to go down.

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Diego Sanchez vs Clay Guida

The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale 

June 20th 2009

Las Vegas, Nevada

There’s a little bit of needle in the pre-fight video package before the fight, which I didn’t recall.

“I’m not impressed with him. He hasn’t fought Clay Guida yet. He hasn’t seen the ugliest fighter you’ve ever seen. The scariest, toughest dude in the Lightweight division. I’m not looking past him, but I do see that goal behind him. And that’s what I’m fighting for, that UFC strap.” - Clay Guida 

Even the entrances here are mad. Diego coming out constantly shouting ‘YES!’ and Guida getting the shit slapped out of him by his own cornerman.

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When the entrances are like that you know you’re in for something a bit different. Totally set the scene for the mayhem that was about to unfold.

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“I say it’s a draw in the mean face contest.” - Joe Rogan

Round 1: The fight gets underway and immediately...

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Diego is all the fuck over him. Uppercut after uppercut after uppercut. Knees, hooks, more uppercuts. He’s throwing the lot at him. Guida’s mouthpiece flies out. This is all within the opening 30 seconds! Not only is Guida absorbing it all, he’s still standing and trying to throw back. He’s getting battered though.

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Guida gets a much needed takedown but he’s mostly just controlling Diego and regrouping from that beating he took early in the round. Diego back up and they’re off again.

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Fuck me.

Clay somehow pops back up but he’s taking some serious punishment. More uppercuts. Seriously, Guida’s name should probably be brought up more whenever the ‘best chins’ talk comes up. I know Sanchez wasn’t a massive puncher but Guida showed in a bunch of fights that he could take a dig or 80. Absolute lunatic. Diego gets a late takedown and seals the round with a few more shots at the end. Sanchez 10-8 easy.

Round 2: Diego comes right out going for that big headkick again but doesn’t find the sweet spot. Guida with a takedown but Diego’s staying busy off his back with elbows and looking for submissions. Guida’s doing a good job controlling him and landing some ground and pound though. Clay’s nose is pissing blood. And Diego’s going to town with the elbows now.

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Fucking hell. Diego’s more aggressive off his back than most fighters are on the feet. He’s trying for armbars and all sorts and the round ends. They probably scored that for Guida because he was on top but I had Diego winning this one off his back myself. He landed harder strikes from the bottom than Clay did on top and even though Clay was in the ‘dominant position’, he spent most of his time defending what Sanchez was throwing at him. Better round for Clay than the first, of course, but I’ve got it for Sanchez 20-17 going into the final round.

Round 3: Guida shooting for takedowns to no joy. Diego landing on the feet. Clay’s started to connect more with his punches late in the fight though.

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He actually lands some really tasty looking shots. Not pretty technically but they look like they’ve got a bit of venom behind them. Of course, Mike Goldberg just ignores that and talks up what Sanchez is doing. Clay goes for a takedown and nearly gets his back taken but manages to wind up on top. There’s only a minute and change left and Guida is on top. Diego working a Kimura and the blood from Clay’s nose streaming down his back makes for quite a visual. 

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Guida escapes and goes mad with ground and pound until the buzzer goes. Guida 10-9.

Winner - Diego Sanchez by split decision.

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Awesome fight. You can’t really hear on this Fight Pass version but I could swear on the live showing the crowd actually boo the decision. The right man definitely won though. Even if you scored the second round for Guida, the best I could give him would be a draw because that first round was a nailed on 10-8 for Diego.

Rewatching this now, great fight of course. But my main takeaway is that I really wish they’d brought in the 5 round non-title main events a couple of years earlier. It was a pretty close one and another 2 rounds of this might’ve seen one of them really put a stamp on it in the old ‘championship rounds’. Not to mention 3 rounds of these fuckers wasn’t enough. One of the things that made this fight so interesting to me going in, aside from the knowledge it was obviously going to be total chaos, was the pace. Diego was known for his pace and insane conditioning and cardio. Guida was the same way. He’d just be in your face and keep grinding to the point it’d break a lot of guys. So a 5 rounder might’ve really answered who was able to dig deepest in those later rounds. Oh well. As a 3 round fight it’s still up there with the best in Lightweight history. At one point I really wanted to see a rematch but that ship has sailed now. I’ve got no desire to see Sanchez vs Guida 2 in 2020 or beyond. Leave the memories of this classic be.

In 2019, this fight got put into fight wing of the UFC Hall Of Fame. And much deserved. 

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Aww.

Edited by wandshogun09
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#11 - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Bob Sapp - Pride/K-1 Dynamite - Aug 28th 2002

Yep. This bastard. No way I wasn’t including this. For me this is the fight that sums Nogueira up probably more than any other in his long Hall Of Fame career. To anyone who’s only familiar with the Bob Sapp we know now, that sounds ridiculous. But if you know, you know. In 2002, Sapp wasn’t the joke he later became.

Before I get into the fight, this show itself has always fascinated me. To the point I’ve even got the DVD release of it, which is probably a fucker to find now as it wasn’t officially released here or in America. Think it came out in France or something.

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Don’t even remember where I got it or how much for but I wouldn’t have spent much so I imagine I found it going fairly cheap on eBay or something and snapped it up. I imagine it’s quite rare these days. I’ve also got the US PPV version which I got from some online trader way back. I’m watching that version for this review. Need my fix of Quadros and Rutten. Even Goldberg turned up!

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The lads.

So yeah, this was an absolute monster of a card even by today’s standards with how big the sport is now. This was 18 years ago and they put a reported 91,000 people in Tokyo National Stadium.

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Mind boggling. There was good reason it drew such a crowd though. It was a joint event between Pride and K-1. Which would be like WWF and WCW coming together to do a show in the late 90s. No exaggeration. Kickboxing never fully caught on as a televised sport over here or in the US, but K-1 in Japan in the 90s and early 2000s was a beast. They loved it over there and guys like Ernesto Hoost, Peter Aerts, Jerome Le Banner, Andy Hug and others were legitimate household names in Japan in that era. So throwing them on a card with Pride’s big MMA stars like Kazushi Sakuraba, Royce Gracie, Big Nog and Don Frye was absolutely mega. Add in Japan’s own Olympic gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida and K-1/MMA crossover guys like Mirko Cro Cop and Semmy Schilt...on paper, you’ve got the kind of mix to put on a hell of a show. The show would be a mixture of MMA and Kickboxing bouts. This was the full card...

Mirko Cro Cop vs Kazushi Sakuraba (MMA)

Royce Gracie vs Hidehiko Yoshida (weird Gracie rules match where it could only end by submission or it’s a draw)

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Bob Sapp (MMA) 

Jerome Le Banner vs Don Frye (K-1 rules)

Ernesto Hoost vs Semmy Schilt (K-1 rules)

Gary Goodridge vs Lloyd Van Dams (MMA) 

Daijiro Matsui vs Jerrel Venetiaan (MMA) 

Wanderlei Silva vs Tatsuya Iwasaki (MMA)

When you’ve got fucking Wandy in the opener you know it’s a ludicrously stacked card. It could’ve been even more crazy as well. Bas Rutten said on Rogan’s podcast a few years ago that he was pushing for a fight with Wanderlei on this card. He wanted it basically under K-1 rules but with the little MMA gloves. Can you fucking imagine? Surprised Pride didn’t go for that, to be honest. Unless El Guapo’s price was too high.

Looking back at that card now, the standout other than this Nog vs Sapp circus (which I will get to in a minute, sorry), is Le Banner vs Frye. No one’s ever questioned the guts of Frye, who’d dare to? But man, that was a bad idea, wasn’t it?

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Sticking him in with Le Banner under K-1 rules wasn’t ever going to end well for Don. Whole thing lasted 90 seconds. I remember seeing the clip of just the KO really early into my MMA fandom and thinking it was one of the worst knockouts I’d ever seen. I thought I’d witnessed a murder.

Truthfully though, as much as I liked the idea of this show and I loved that the Japanese promoters actually made it happen, the fights themselves didn’t really deliver like you’d hope on such a potentially massive night for both sports.

Except one.

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Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Bob Sapp

Pride/K-1 Dynamite 2002

August 28th 2002

Tokyo, Japan

I don’t know why this fight was made. And I’m not going to waste time trying to figure it out. It’s Pride. Did they ever need a reason to make any barmy fight they fancied? This has got to be up there though, as one of the maddest freakshow fights in MMA history. Nogueira was Pride’s Heavyweight champion at this point. Their top man. A BJJ black-belt with a 16-1-1 record and wins over Enson Inoue, Heath Herring, Mark Coleman and Gary Goodridge. So they chucked their champ in there with Bob Sapp who was 2-0 but looked like this...

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Oh yes.

Like I said earlier, Sapp was far from a joke at this point. He was billed at 6’5” and 375lbs here. 375, for fuck’s sake! Whether that’s embellished or not, who cares? You don’t need to add anything on for effect. Look at him. He doesn’t even look real. We all remember the horse meat Overeem days but Sapp at this time even made him look small.

He’d fought twice in Pride at this point and won both by first round knockout. He stopped Yoshihisa Yamamoto in less than 3 minutes in his debut, then wiped out Kiyoshi Tamura in 11 seconds in his next fight. He’d also had one short fight in K-1 two months before this fight, but lost by DQ in about a minute. He’s a laughing stock these days but nobody was laughing in 2002. He was terrifying. Nobody knew quite what they were dealing with where Sapp was concerned. He was a real unknown quantity. But he was thought to be doing the right things at this time in his career. He was green and raw as fuck, of course, but he was taking it seriously and with his physical size and the right attitude, his potential was through the roof, both in the ring and as a superstar out of it.

He was training with Josh Barnett as well.

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Which seemed like the perfect choice for a guy to mentor, train and advise him. Quadros asks Barnett in the pre-fight interview about Sapp’s progression;

“You know what, the thing is Bob has never actually had to display his full arsenal of skills because his fights have lasted all of, what, 20 seconds? Well, the last one was 11. So if this fight presses on I think that not only are we gonna see that Bob can knock people out but he’s got some more tricks up his sleeve.” - Josh Barnett

Either he was just bullshitting to hype his man or he’d seen stuff in the gym that gave him genuine confidence in Big Bob. I think it’s the latter. Barnett’s a great talker and can promote anything he wants but he seems excited about Sapp here and I don’t think he’d big Sapp up so much if he thought he might be wrong.

Nog doesn’t get enough credit for taking this fight. It’s easy to look back now after seeing what Sapp’s become since, and brush it off. But Nog took this fight on, not knowing what the fuck Sapp was capable of. Yeah, he had a big edge in experience and technique but Sapp was unlike anything MMA had seen and there was a grand total of 3 and a bit minutes of fight footage on him. Nobody really knew anything other than he was built like a transit van with limbs. Nog even jokes about it before the fight.

“When they asked me to fight against him, I’d like to ask them ‘can I train with him before?’ You know, because I never trained with a guy that big.” - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Sorry Noggles, you don’t get any practice run.

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Round 1: Bell rings and Nog comes flying across and immediately shoots in for a takedown. Doesn’t exactly go to plan...

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Fucking terrifying! He tries it again but Nog’s not interested in taking that ride again. Sapp’s on top and the bloody lights have gone out. Even with Nog’s guard, he’s in danger here just because how do you control a 375lb grizzly bear? You can have all the technique you want but there comes a point with sheer size where it’s too much to overcome. Back on the feet and Nog’s landing some shots. He’s trying to just hit and move then shoots in again, Sapp tries to put his weight on him but Nog’s ready for it this time;

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Nog’s on top now!  But Sapp just rolls over and gets back on top. Just the pure size of him that was. There was no skill in it, he just swatted Nog aside. And now he’s dropping those lunchbox fists.

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Christ! Imagine seeing that coming down at you? He’s just ragging Nog about here. It’s like that scene in Jaws when the shark comes up on the boat and bites that bloke’s legs off. It’s not pretty. I don’t know how Nog weathered it.

“We’re watching something here...the best Heavyweight in the world is being manhandled! A huge message to every Heavyweight - be on notice.” - Stephen Quadros

Nog landing some punches on the feet again but they’re just bouncing off Sapp. Nog cracks him with a hard right to the face and shoots again for a takedown. Every time he does that though, Sapp just goes dead weight, plops down on top of him and engulfs him with his sheer mass.

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At this point it seems like Nog’s fast running out of options. He’s clearly the more skilled fighter but he’s been unable to put a dent in Sapp on the feet and he hasn’t been able to get his grappling going because Sapp just powers out. Nog’s trying everything. He goes for a leg lock and Sapp just sits on him. Just utter despair for Minotauro.

“I have to say, if Bob does not get gassed Nogueira’s gonna have a very, very tough time beating him. Punches are not gonna knock Bob out. It’s not gonna happen.” - Bill Goldberg

Oh, Bill. You just went and jinxed the man’s whole career. It’s all your fault.

Sapp’s just clubbing away as the round ends. And Nogueira’s somehow survived 10 minutes of this hell.

Round 2: Sapp’s just ragdolling him about the gaff again. Fuck’s sake. Nog’s throwing up a triangle but how’s that going to work? Try wrapping your legs around a bungalow. Sapp hits a bit of a powerbomb out of it. Sapp’s looking knackered now and Nogueira’s trying for a Kimura. The crowd is going mad. Nog gets on top but again Sapp just rolls over.

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Insane.

Sapp’s flagging badly now though. Just completely exhausted. And Nog knows it. He’s back on top, he’s going all out for the armbar...

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He fully extends it and that’s it.

Winner - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by submission. Round 2 - 4:03.

The crowd goes apeshit as the Brazilian Top Team hoist Nog up in the air in celebration.

”The respect I already had for Nogueira...tenfold, times ten. Unbelievable!” - Bas Rutten 

Despite the loss, Sapp continued to show real promise. The rest of his 2002 consisted of a submission win over Yoshihiro Takayama on the Inoki New Year’s Eve show and then it was back to K-1 where he scored a first round stoppage over Cyril Abidi and then two consecutive TKO victories over Ernesto Hoost. That was a shocker given Hoost’s legendary status in K-1. Cro Cop wrecked him in 2003 though. Proper broke him up and smashed his orbital bone. And in the years that followed, the losses got more frequent. In the later years of his career, he was going down easier than a pilled up Sunny in 1997. As it stands today, his MMA record is 12-20-1 and his Kickboxing record is 12-19. Between both sports he’s been finished 31 times. At one point he was on a 14 fight losing streak in MMA and he had a 10 fight losing streak in Kickboxing. Where did it all go wrong? He went from a monster to a meme.

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Don’t get me wrong, shit like this was hilarious and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve enjoyed the fuck out of some of his weird and wonderful freakshow fights like the Akebono one in RIZIN a few years back. But when you look back at him in 2002, powerbombing Nog on his head and stopping Hoost twice, it’s a shame really. He could’ve been so much more. He’s such a likeable big lump and obviously he looks like a video game character. If he’d kept on the right track and kept grafting I genuinely think he could’ve been a force. It’s not like Heavyweight has ever been the deepest division. If he’d gotten to a point where his grappling was even just decent, his raw physical strength probably would’ve made up for the rest. And all he’d have needed back then was to master a few basic striking techniques and he’d have been a hard nut to crack. But it seemed like as soon as he lost a few times he just gave up and stopped caring. And from then on, as soon as he’d take a dig he’d look for the exit. Fair play to him, I’m sure he’s done well financially out of it. If he’s banked good coin without putting all the work in then good on him. But purely from a potential standpoint, his career was such a waste.

Whatever, I’m rambling. This was a thriller. Sapp was horrifying and Nog was sensational. To come back from the powerbomb/piledriver alone was nuts. But to take all the punishment after that and come through with a win was classic Nogueira.

The fight is on Fight Pass but if you don’t have that, here’s a condensed version with a Rocky twist;

Ivan who? Clubber what? Hocky Balboa ain’t got shit on Big Nog. Honestly though, no wonder Nogueira aged like a strawberry over the next few years. He looked really young at the start of this fight. By the end of the decade he had the ballbag skin face. 

Edited by wandshogun09
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