Dubai: With all the talk of boxing past masters such as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield staging comebacks, it does not seem out of sync for Sunday morning’s Fight Night 172 card in Abu Dhabi to showcase a contest between veteran MMA fighters in Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Antonio Rogerio ‘Minotouro’ Nogueira, in the co-main event.
It’s been 15 years since the two light heavyweights met for the first time in a Pride Critical Countdown clash in Osaka, Japan, and five years since their 2015 rematch at UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro. Rua won both fights by unanimous decision but Nogueira is still haunted by the losses and is still crying out for revenge.
With time running out, the 44-year-old Nogueira, who has already announced that this will be his final bout before retirement, is hoping that he can finally settle the score against the 38-year-old Rua when the Flash Forum arena on Yas Island hosts the last of four thrilling ‘Fight Island’ cards.
Rua vs Nogueira 3 has all the makings of a high-level MMA contests.
Rua may have the age and speed advantage but Nogueira is as hard as nails and can absorb tons of punishment before he surprises his opponents with his power as Rashad Evans and Alistair Overeem will testify.
He also possesses a slick jiu-jitsu game which Rua may find tricky to cope with given the fact that he is far from his prime and has suffered huge losses against top-level fighters such as Jon Jones (UFC 128), Anthony Smith (UFC Fight Night 134), Dan Henderson (UFC 139, UFC Fight Night 38) and Ovince St Preux (UFC Fight Night 56).
Rua is likely to build his attack behind leg kicks and punches to the mid-section in an attempt to further slowdown the pressure fighter Nogueira, who prefers to stand and trade exchanges.
“I wouldn’t say we have a bond, but we do respect each other a lot as fighters and people, and there’s no animosity. Just competitiveness,” Rua told UFC.com
“I think we both always look to finish the fight,” We have different styles and weapons but are both very aggressive and looking to finish.
“So I think that way of fighting, combined with the old rivalry, competitiveness, plus the different styles make for an exciting fight.”
Most British bookmakers have Rua as the slight 8/15 favourite against the 13/8 Nogueira.
Meanwhile, nine months since his crushing defeat to Isreael Adesany at UFC 242 last October, Robert Whittaker makes his return to the Octagon against Darren Till in the main event.
“The Robert Whittaker (fans are) going to get is a happier one,” the New Zealand native who lives in Australia, told the Bleacher Report. “A much happier one. I’m doing everything I’m doing for me and my family. One, because I enjoy it. And two, because it’s how I provide for my family. (I’m) very ready to go.”
Darren Till realises that a victory over Whittaker will rescue his career and even put him in the reckoning for a potential title shot against champion Isreal Adesanya.
The Brit, who fights out of the MTK global stable, said: “I can’t wait to fight now. He’s the ex-champion and I’m trying to get that fight with the champion Adesanya. This is make or break, if I can beat him then I can get that fight.
“I’m not looking past Whittaker though, I’ve got to beat him at all costs. I visualise beating Robert, and what my life will be like after beating him.”
Elsewhere on the card, Till’s teammate Mike Grundy is also in action, as he goes up against Movsar Evloev in a featherweight bout.
UFC Fight Night
Sunday, Flash Forum, Abu Dhabi
Main Card (4am UAE)
185lbs: Robert Whittaker v Darren Till
205lbs: Mauricio Rua v Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
265lbs: Fabricio Werdum v Alexander Gustafsson
125lbs: Carla Esparza v Maria Rodriguez
205lbs: Paul Craig v Gadzhimurad Antigulov
170lbs: Nicolas Dalby v Jesse Ronson
115lbs: Alex Oliveira v Peter Sobotta
170lbs: Khamzat Chimaev v Rhys McKee
Prelims Card (1am UAE)
155lbs: Jai Herbert v Francisco Trinaldo
170lbs: Nicolas Dalby v Jesse Ronson
265lbs: Tom Aspinall v Jake Collier
145lbs: Movsar Evloev v Mike Grundy
265lbs: Tanner Boser v Raphael Pessoa
135lbs: Bethe Correia v Pannie Kianzad
170lbs: Ramazan Emeev v Niklas Stolze
135lbs: Nathaniel Wood v John Castaneda