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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.


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...



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


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.


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...


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!


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.


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.


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.


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...


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...


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...


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.


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. 



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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