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UFC 102 Preview: Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

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You'd be hard pressed to find many more iconic figures in MMA than Randy "The Natural" Couture. This former collegiate wrestling standout is still going strong in his mid 40's and has gained an enormous following do his repeated comebacks and big-time performances when his back was against the wall. Randy had won two fights in a row, defeating Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga, before being knocked out in the second round by Brock Lesnar (a fighter 14 years his junior) last November. Couture put up a pretty good showing against the current champ but still fell short and now finds himself looking to rebound against a man that was one of the most successful heavyweights of the past 10 years. Look for Couture to try and press the action, close the distance and land some big strikes in the clinch. Randy Couture has a professional record of 16-9 with seven wins coming by way of knockout and two wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced is 66.8%.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has arguably been one of the top two heavyweights on the planet for the greater part of this decade but has noticeably slowed recently. He looked lackluster in wins over Heath Herring and Tim Sylvia and finally had a horrendous night last December against Frank Mir (some have stated that Nog was still feeling the effects of a serious staph infection). It would be easy for folks to count Nogueira out on Saturday but he's supposedly in the best shape that he's been in for quite some time. Also, he trains with an outstanding team that will absolutely put him through the ringer in preparation for this one. Before the loss to Mir, the joke used to be that Noguiera didn't so much lose as run out of time (all of his prior losses had been by decision). Hyperbole aside, Nogueira is a first ballot hall-of-famer and it is very possible that he has one last big performance left in him. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has a professional record of 31-5-1 with three wins coming by way of knockout and nineteen wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced is 69.4%.

Although this fight would have been better four years ago, it still has an element of intrigue that is worthy of headlining a show like UFC 102. This could be seen as a classic "loser leaves town" match. The loser faces a very serious setback that will no doubt be followed by some calls for retirement by the MMA media and fans. The winner could find themselves right back in the heavyweight mix and will have an element of bragging rights. A key element seems to be which fighter has more left in the tank at this point. I feel like picking against conventional wisdom here. I know what the prognosticators are saying about how Randy will outbox Nogueira, rough him up in the clinch and apply some nice ground and pound. I'm well aware of how terrible Antonio looked in his last outing against Mir. I'll not argue that Noguiera is still anywhere near his prime. What I will say, though, is that I think he has this one more big performance left in him. I see him digging down deep here and grinding out a decision. The guy is definitely not what he used to be, but I'm thinking that this 33-year-old version of Nogueira will find a way to beat this 46-year-old version of Couture. What do you all think?