antonio-rodrigo-nogueira-fabricio-werdum.jpgAntonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fabricio Werdum‘s first meeting nine years ago with the now-defunct PRIDE promotion was a snapshot of two fighters miles apart in their development as fighters.

Werdum (16-5-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) then was 10 fights into his career as an MMA fighter who had transitioned to the burgeoning sport from the world of competitive jiu-jitsu. Stats for the fight reflected his skills: He took Nogueira down 10 times and only gave up three.

Nogueira (34-7-1 MMA, 5-3 UFC), while no longer at the apex of his career after losing his PRIDE title to Fedor Emelianenko, still was considered one of the most formidable heavyweights in the division. For that fight, he didn’t need to use the jiu-jitsu skills that previously had served him so well. Instead, he was far more effective in exploiting Werdum’s relative lack of experience in striking. He landed more total strikes and knocked down Werdum on four occasions.

In the end, it was Nogueira’s experience that carried the day, with judges awarding him a unanimous-decision win after three rounds.

On Saturday, the two meet again in the headliner of UFC on FUEL TV 10, not only as opposing coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2,” but as equals. Werdum is no longer reliant on the grappling skills that first brought him to the big stage. After PRIDE folded, he earned a handful of wins over top-tier competitors, including one of the most iconic upsets in MMA history when he submitted Emelianenko under the Strikeforce banner. After an uneven showing in his first UFC run, he returned to batter Roy Nelson and then ended the four-fight win streak of grinder Mike Russow.

In both of his octagon appearances, Werdum displayed a highly evolved striking game that leaned heavily on kicks. His timing was better, and he better controlled distance. He was nothing like the fighter Nogueira first faced.

And now, with so much time between them, that statement could also be applied conversely to “Big Nog,” who by all estimates is headed toward the end of a long and illustrious career. While Nogueira might feel like he has plenty of life left in him, as he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) leading up to this fight, it’s without question that the skills he now possesses are dulled by all the years of battle done on his body. At this point, efficiency and craftiness are perhaps his best weapons.

UFC on FUEL TV 10 takes place at Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil. The event’s main card airs on FUEL TV (8 p.m. ET) following prelims on Facebook (5:15 p.m. ET).

Just one month from the age of 36, Werdum is no spring chicken, either. But he’s taken far less damage and fought almost half the number of fights as his elder opponent. That could play a huge factor in the relative speed of the two-time opponents, and now that Werdum is no longer deficient in the striking realm, that translates to more potential damage to Nogueira, who tends to take punches to give them.

By the betting lines, fans have staked their claim that Werdum has passed Nogueira in the heavyweight pecking order. He’s a 3-1 favorite.

And you could also infer that the UFC is more heavily invested in the younger fighter. White has earmarked Werdum for a title shot if he beats Nogueira, though that fight would take place after Junior dos Santos gets a rubber match with champ Cain Velasquez. No such promises have been given to Nogueira.

But if there’s any X-factor that might negate the advantages of Werdum coming into the fight, it’s Nogueira’s legendary ability to take punishment. And while he won’t have the speed advantage, he might be able to use his craftiness to catch Werdum with a big punch and end his night, which would put another huge upset on his resume.

By most estimates, though, it’s Werdum’s fight to lose.

OTHER MAIN-CARD BOUTS

Leonardo Santos (11-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. William Macario (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC): The fourth and sixth picks, respectively, on Nogueira’s “TUF” team, these two have walked drastically different roads to the final. Santos fought his way to the semifinals only to be outpointed by Santiago Ponzinibbio, who broke his hand and was unable to recover in time for the final. Macario, meanwhile, finished all but one of his opponents. Although injury-replacement Santos has far more experience on the international circuit, his submission skills haven’t fared as well as the striking of Macario, who previously was a regional standout. That could change when the two meet since Santos is far more familiar with the spotlight that comes with a huge opportunity. But Macario has shown himself to be a finisher, and it could take one punch to win him the show.

Rafael Cavalcante (11-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Thiago Silva (14-3 MMA, 5-3 UFC): A battle of two light heavyweights coming off suspension, with Cavalcante making his octagon debut after time on the bench for a steroid suspension and Silva returning from a forced leave due to a failed marijuana test. Silva has talked up a beef with Cavalcante that stems from earlier run-ins, but from the sound of it, he’s simply been trying to pump up himself for the fight. Although he’s challenged Cavalcante to a stand-up war, as of late, Silva has played the wall-and-stall game just as much as he has slugged it out on the feet. That might work in fighting Cavalcante, who can match him fist-for-fist in power and may actually have a speed advantage in exchanges.

Daniel Sarafian (7-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) vs. Eddie Mendez (7-0-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC): Sarafian tore through the competition in the inaugural season of “TUF: Brazil” before suffering an injury that forced him out of the show’s final, but he probably was rushed a little bit when he took on veteran C.B. Dollaway in his official UFC debut. In his second bout, he gets a chance to reset against Strikeforce vet Mendez, who’s better matched to him in overall level of competition.

Jason High (16-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) vs. Erick Silva (14-3 MMA, 2-2 UFC): After a pair of losses in the DREAM ring and UFC octagon, High has been on a roll in smaller events while winning seven in a row. The veteran has a stiff test out of the gate in his second shot in the big show. Although Jon Fitch dominated him in his previous outing, Silva is one of the brightest prospects in the welterweight division, and he’s as dangerous a submission threat as in striking, where High has shown vulnerability in rapid-fire exchanges.

Rony Jason (12-3 MMA, 2-0 UFC) vs. Mike Wilkinson (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC): The winner of the featherweight bracket on “TUF: Brazil,” Jason returns after earning the first stoppage of his UFC career, which came against “The Ultimate Fighter 15? vet Sam Sicilia. Wilkinson, who was injured during his appearance on “TUF: Team Australia vs. Team U.K.,” gets a chance at redemption and improve his undefeated resume.

MAIN CARD (FUEL TV, 8 p.m. ET)

  • Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Fabricio Werdum
  • William Macario vs. Leonardo Santos “TUF: Brazil 2? tournament final
  • Rafael Cavalcante vs. Thiago Silva
  • Eddie Mendez vs. Daniel Sarafian
  • Jason High vs. Erick Silva
  • Rony Jason vs. Mike Wilkinson

PRELIMINARY CARD (Facebook, 5:10 p.m. ET)

For the latest on UFC on FUEL TV 10, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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