The main event for tonight's UFC Fight Night 24 is a light heavyweight non-title affair between veteran and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and former NCAA Division I wrestling national champion Phil Davis. Nogueira is significantly older, far more shop worn than Davis and has had less than inspiring performances against wrestlers like Jason Brilz and Ryan Bader. Davis, so far undefeated in his short career in mixed martial arts, has looked good, but still limited. Davis has show almost no interest in striking whatsoever and while his submission game has improved dramatically, it's not sufficiently strong to lord over the top of the division.
Wrestling has long been a means to combating both the best grapplers in the world and the best strikers in the sport. Davis' strength and advancing submission skills pose more of a threat to opponents with each fight, and it isn't unimaginable that he pulls off a submission on Saturday, especially if he can tire his older foe over the course of the three-round affair.
I'm not convinced Davis has the skills to be that dangerous just yet. I do think that Davis has the wrestling acumen and top control game to relentlessly work and win this fight via the scorecards. While Nogueira has the submission game to threaten, his age and the fact that he relies on defensive grappling tactics to find openings leads me to believe he's in for a rude awakening on the ground. He can't stop takedowns, and hoping for Davis to leave his arm hanging is a means to getting pummeled from the top for fifteen minutes.
In my mind, Davis takes this fight the distance and wins on the scorecards. I think Nogueira has the grappling ability to potentially catch Davis in a submission, but I don't think his boxing will be a huge threat as the fight progresses. In the early moments of each round, it may be an immediate danger. Unfortunately, Nogueira's lacking takedown defense will hurt him. I'll go with Davis via decision.
This is actually a really tough fight for Davis. Nogueira has better takedown defense than he's given credit and has a fantastic guard/sweep game. I struggle just a little thinking of how Davis will score given how he's fought in the past. He'll get most if not all of the takedowns, but can he GNP? How about pass positionally? It's an open question. I do think Davis will figure it out, though, given how much of the fight will be spent in a position where he has time to work through the challenges, namely, on top in Nog's guard. Davis by decision.
For all the hype Davis has coming into this fight - he's being positioned as the man to eventually give Jon Jones a challenge - he needs to inspire tonight with his performance. Not just win or win convincingly, but make a name off of a win over Lil' Nog. Let's see what he can do.