Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira defied the expectations of most tonight by making his return from a year and a half injury-induced layoff a successful one, dispatching of highly regarded young prospect Brendan Schaub inside of the first round.
Supremely motivated to fight for the first time in front of a hometown crowd in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Big Nog admittedly rushed through the physical therapy he was required to undergo following the double-hip and knee surgeries he had performed while on his layoff just so he could appear on the card. The media’s widespread speculation that Minotauro would be ill-prepared to take on the surging young gun in Schaub was bolstered by rumblings that some of his training partners like Junior dos Santos and Rafael Cavalcante were also worried that their mentor would not be ready to fight.
“I was injured, I had surgery in both hips and my knee, but I sacrificed because I had never fought at home,” Nogueira said after the fight. “I wanted to fight for them.”
Despite building a life and MMA career off of his incredible capacity to do so, apparently Nogueira’s ability to overcome adversity had been forgotten by most of us.
Both fighters came out hard, but Noguiera looked to be guided by a purpose larger than himself. He stalked Schaub down and walked through some hard counter shots fired off by The Hybrid, shots the kind that have put some good fighters down and out. Minotauro looked unconcerned, uninterested even in whatever it was Schaub was doing. He was on a mission and it was clear that he would have to be put to sleep to abandon his quest. Tonight, Schaub didn’t have what it takes to make that happen.
Nogueira stalked The Hybrid down and, as soon as the prospect’s back hit the cage, he unloaded with a mean right hand that put Schaub immediately on queer street. Smelling blood and unwilling to be denied, Nogueira fired off five or more big punches as Schaub slowly crumbled to the mat. With his opponent lying face-first before him, Nogueira raised his hands in victory to the absolute roar of the Rio crowd.
The win brings Nog back from a devastating first round knockout loss to current champion Cain Velasquez, which he suffered in February of 2010 and improves his legendary record to 33-6-1. Far from being the death knell to another veteran’s career as many predicted, tonight’s fight between Big Nog and Brendan Schaub proved that the 35-year-old Brazilian still has what it takes to hang with the big dogs.
Schaub falls to 8-2 in defeat, but at 28-years-old, Schaub is still young in the sport and has plenty of time and ability to improve and shore up his weaknesses.