The MMA career of Antônio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

 

On September 1 heavyweight legend Antônio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira officially announced his retirement from the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. At the age of 39 the Brazilian pioneer bowed out with a record of 34-10-1 (1 no contest) and is the only fighter to have won the world championship in both Pride and the UFC.

The 16-year professional career of “Big Nog” started in 1999 and it wasn’t long before he ran in to some of his fellow pioneers. Nogueira rose to prominence with an effective and rounded style, combining his masterful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with knowledgeable boxing technique. He retired from the Octagon as a 4th degree black belt in BJJ and remains a leading figure at Team Nogueira/Black House, having played a significant role in the career of other champions such as Anderson Silva.

Having gone 4-0 in 1999 with consecutive submission victories in the opening round, Nogueira ventured to Rome, Georgia, USA and met his first notable opponent in the form of Jeremy Horn, in the year 2000. Nogueira defeated Horn via unanimous decision, but faced his first career loss the following month under the banner of RINGS, a memorable promotion founded in 1991 that played host to a wealth of MMA greats throughout its tenure.

On Feb. 26, 2000, Nogueira competed in the RINGS: King of Kings Final tournament in Tokyo, Japan, and advanced to the quarter-final bout before losing to another future icon, Dan Henderson, who took victory with a highly debatable split-decision and went on to win the tournament later that night.

Nogueira would go to win the RINGS: King of Kings tournament the following year with three victories on the night of Feb. 24, 2001, that culminated with an arm-triangle choke victory in the first round against Dutchman Valentijin Overeem.

Nogueira’s historic Pride legacy began that same year with his debut in the iconic Japanese promotion coming at Pride 15 on July 29, 2001. “Big Nog” submitted kickboxing specialist and UFC tournament veteran Gary Goodridge in the opening round with a triangle choke.

Nogueria secured the most significant win of his career so far at Pride 16 by submitting former UFC heavyweight champion and reigning Pride FC Openweight Grand Prix champion, Mark Coleman, with a triangle-armbar, once again during the very first round.

Nogueira won the inaugural Pride Heavyweight Championship on November 3, 2001, by defeating American Heath Herring with a unanimous decision win at Pride 17.

From 2000-2002, Nogueira accumulated a famous 13-fight win streak in Pride that featured ten victories by submission and one via knockout. Nogueira snatched one of the greatest comeback victories in MMA history at Pride Shockwave in 2002 when the gargantuan Bob Sapp imposed his will on the much smaller Brazilian, until BJJ ruled the day and Nogeuria transitioned to secure an armbar submission in the second round.

The victory over Sapp would later serve as one of the go-to examples of Nogueira’s legendary durability and toughness; a reputation he first earned at the age of 10 when being hit by a truck in an accident that left him with noticeable scars to his body, including an indentation on his lower back.

In the later months of 2002 Nogueira submitted K-1 great Semmy Schilt in the opening round at Pride 23 in November, and avenged the first loss of his career by submitting Dan Henderson with a third round armbar at Pride 24 in December. The incredible rematch with Henderson saw both fighters get the better of each other, each finding success with significant striking exchanges. Henderson found much success on the ground, raining down with heavy fists until Nogueira, the great survivalist, pulled off the submission win.

Nogueira’s second loss came on March 16, 2003 at the hand of “The Last Emperor”, Fedor Emelianenko. Many believed that the Russian Sambo master, now considered to be MMA’s greatest heavyweight, was not ready for the talents of the reigning champion, but Fedor, with a record of just 12-1 at the time, overwhelmed Nogueira with takedown defence and relentless hand speed when maintain top control on the ground, en route to taking the Pride world championship via a unanimous decision at Pride 25.

“Big Nog” bounced back five months later with a unanimous decision win over fellow Brazilian and former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez, and before the year was out he claimed the interim title with a second round armbar submission over Croatia’s fearsome striking sensation Mirko “Cro Cop” on Nov. 9, 2003.

After an anti-climax in the final of Pride’s 2004 Heavyweight Grand Prix, where an accidental head-butt saw his rematch with Emelianenko declared a ‘no-contest’, Nogueira had a third shot at Fedor in a bout to unify the Pride heavyweight titles. However, it would be Fedor who once again walked away with the unanimous decision win as the undisputed champion of Pride.

Nogueira made another run at the Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2006, but American submission wrestler Josh Barnett halted the Brazilian via a split-decision at the semi-final stage. Nogueira bested Barnett with an outright unanimous decision win on Dec.31, 2006, and this would be his final appearance for the much loved Japanese promotion before joining the UFC.

In July of 2007, victory in a rematch with Heath Herring provided Nogueria with a shot at the UFC interim championship during the absence of Randy Couture. Nogueira took on giant former champion, Tim Sylvia, and snatched another come from behind victory having been rocked heavily in the first round. Nogueira secured the guillotine choke submission during the third round at UFC 81 to become the only fighter to ever hold titles in both Pride and the UFC.

Despite claiming the UFC crown, Nogueira would now enter the most turbulent stage of his career. The mileage endured by his body likely opened the door just a little further for some of the losses that stood in his path. Despite this, he did not cease to wow audiences and still provided some of the most memorable moments of his career during this period.

As the UFC interim champion, Nogueira was knocked out for the first time by the vastly improved boxing of Frank Mir. The loss was hugely impactful as Nogueira was dropped on several occasions before he could take no more and finally gave out in the second round, at UFC 92 in 2008. Mir would also become the first man to submit the Brazilian legend, at UFC 140 in 2011. When Nogueira refused to submit to a kimura lock, Mir, who himself fought back from near defeat, continued to apply pressure and Nogueira’s arm was broken.

Following the TKO loss to Mir in 2008, “Big Nog” re solidified his reputation with an eagerly anticipated bout against fellow great Randy Couture in 2009. The UFC 102 main event was reminiscent of Nogueira’s blow-for-blow exchanges with Dan Henderson, and he went the distance to claim a unanimous decision win over Couture.

Having started his career with bouts in the USA and Japan, Nogueira had never competed in Brazil until UFC 134 on Aug.27, 2011. The national icon brought the crowd to its feet in Rio de Janeiro with a Knockout punch that finished American Brendan Schaub in the opening round. However, the standout victory was sandwiched between a fierce knockout loss to Cain Velasquez in February of 2010, and the submission loss to Mir that would come four months later.

Nogueira’s last victory fittingly came on Brazilian soil, again in Rio, with an armbar submission over Dave Herman at UFC 153. Since then, he has faced consecutive losses for the first time in his career, beginning with current UFC heavyweight champion Fabrício Werdum, who Nogueira once defeated in 2006. A knockout loss to Roy Nelson came in the headline bout of UFC Fight Night on April 11, 2014, in Abu Dhabi, and most recently, a unanimous decision loss to 27-year-old Dutchman Stefan Struve at UFC 190 on August 1, 2015.

Nogueira will forever be remembered as one of the most inspirational, respectful and beloved veterans in all of MMA; a fan favourite across Brazil, the USA, Japan and beyond.

“Minotauro” reflected on his career and discussed the position he will take up with the UFC, in a recent interview with MMAFighting.

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