26th, July 2005

Since lockdown began and the live combat sport schedule ground to a halt we have produced a series of retrospective content focusing on Pride and the golden era of Japanese MMA.

Most of the fighters from that era have either retired or are coming towards the end of their careers. But two of them are set to face off for the third time at UFC 252 in Abu Dhabi next month.

Maurício ‘Shogun’ Rua and Antônio Rogério Nogueira are two Pride veterans who have stood the test of time. Before signing with the UFC they fought on some of the biggest fight cards ever held in Japan.

‘Big Nog’ is now a veteran of 12 UFC fights while ‘Shogun’ has competed 20 times in the octagon and held the promotion’s light heavyweight title from 2009 to 2011.

The former recently celebrated his 44th birthday while the latter is 38. But when they first fought in 2005 both Brazilians were up and coming contenders bursting onto the Japanese scene.

Winning streaks

Nogueira had won six fights out of six for Pride beating the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson. He submitted the latter in the opening round of the promotion’s first ever middleweight Grand Prix.

Rua had won five fights out of five for Pride, stopping Quinton Jackson with soccer kicks in his first Grand Prix bout. It is a fight that is still talked about to this day.

A spot in the semi finals was at stake when the two Brazilians faced off at the Saitama Super Arena. Nogueira started the fight on the front foot, closing the distance in an attempt to get the fight to the ground without eating too many of Rua’s trademark low kicks.

The strategy worked but it was Nogueira who ended up on his back. The BJJ specialist tried to grab a leg and sweep Rua, who decided to get back to his feet rather than risk engaging further on the ground.

Heavy kicks

Rua landed a couple of heavy low kicks to the inside leg of Nogueira before grabbing his opponent’s body and throwing him unceremonious to the floor. From guard he landed some elbows before sprinting to his feet to escape from an armbar attempt.

But Shogun was not exactly reluctant to engage. From a standing position he attacked relentlessly with kicks, downward punches and flying stomps as the crowd made its approval of the aggressive Brazilian known.

The referee stood them up and Rua looked to carry on where he left off with a barrage of punches. This time Nogueira was ready and he dropped ‘Shogun’ with a perfectly timed counter right hook.

Rua bounced right back up and some wild exchanges ensued, with the former landing a hard left hook. Again ‘Shogun’ showed his versatility by taking Nogueira down and landing in his guard.

Furious pace

Again Nogueira countered with an armbar and for a moment it looked like he might have it. But Rua slipped out and the referee wasted no time in insisting both men continue the fight from a standing position.

Rua continued to throw punches and another left hook landed flush. Nogueira tried to drag him to the ground but landed in bottom position again, with his opponent in guard.

Rua got to his feet and threw himself at his prone opponent, connecting with what could only be described as a flying right hand. The referee stood them up quickly again and another wild exchange of punches ensued.

They clinched up but this time Rua’s takedown attempt backfired and he ended up underneath Nogueira for the first time in the fight. The BJJ specialist had side control and landed a series of knees to the head.

He rolled for an anaconda choke but ended up on his back with Rua in his guard yet again. ‘Shogun’ stood up and attempted a few stomps and soccer kicks before the referee paused the fight to allow the action to resume from a standing position.

Over seven minutes had elapsed in the round but the pace remained furious. Rua attacked with punches but Nogueira was able to tie him up and land some knees to the midsection from the clinch.

Flying punches

‘Shogun’ responded by flinging him to the floor. Rua was unable to land and offence from that position so he stood up and dive bombed ‘Big Nog’ with more flying punches.

Nogueira was looking for a triangle or an armbar but a suitable opening failed to present itself. A thrilling first round finished with Rua springing to his feet, looking to land one last soccer kick.

After such a grueling first round it would have been no surprise to see the pace slow at the start of the second stanza. But Shogun immediately attacked with inside low kicks as Nogueira closed the distance and tried for a takedown.

‘Shogun’ twisted in mid air to acrobatically ensure he landed in top position. The referee wasted no time in standing them up and they traded punches again before Rua pulled Nogueira to the ground.

‘Big Nog’ tried for an armbar but Rua slipped out, stopped up and attacked with some stomps. Again, the referee stood Nogueira up quickly and ‘Shogun’ landed a body kick and some solid punches.

Dive bombing

Rua dragged Nogueira down again in another identical sequence. ‘Shogun’ attacked with a diving downward punch and then warded off a triangle attempt before moving into side control.

Rua briefly took his opponent’s back and looked to move into mount before standing up again and then diving down behind a punch. The round finished with ‘Shogun’ in guard.

Nogueira was clearly behind on the scorecards heading into the third and final round. He looked for an early takedown, pulling guard and ending up on the bottom again.

Rua stood up and then dived down with a punch. The fight was paused briefly as the referee looked to clear some blood from Nogueira’s face before being restarted in standing position.

A striking exchange ensued and Rua dropped Nogueria with a left hook. ‘Shogun’ was in guard but elected to stand up and dive bomb with punches.

Final seconds

Time was running out for Nogueira and Rua continued to stand up and then dive down with right hands. The referee stood them up again with two minutes remaining in the fight.

Rua charged in with punches and took Nogueira down. ‘Shogun’ continued to be aggressive but he ate an up kick before the referee stood them up for the final time.

Now it was Nogueira’s turn to come forwards throwing punches and Rua ended up in bottom position after pulling guard. He didn’t stay there for long though, catching a soccer kick attempt and reversing.

The fight finished with Rua in top position and the crowd at the Saitama Super Arena applauding. All three judges scored it in favour of ‘Shogun’ who would go on to win the Pride middleweight Grand Prix.

The two would meet again at UFC 190 in 2015. But nothing could match the intensity, energy and aggression of the brawl that the Brazilians engaged in at Pride: ‘Critical Countdown’ 2005.