Ten years ago, MMATorch contributor Mike Jarsulic – a fan of UFC since UFC 2 – introduced a column where he broke down a single fight in-depth, explaining what was happening in each segment of the match. He trained in Tang Soo Do, Tai Jutsu-gen Karate, and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, along with competing in folkstyle, freestyle, and Greco-Roman wrestling. At the time, he was focusing his training in Tai Jutsu-gen and BJJ under Sonny Achille (Rickson Gracie Lineage) in Pittsburgh.
By Mike Jarsulic, MMATorch contributor
On September 10, 2006, Dream Stage Entertainment presented the “Pride Fighting Championships: Final Conflict Absolute” from Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The event consisted of the semifinals and the finals of the Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, which was won by Mirko Cro Cop. However, the most interesting match on the card from a technical standpoint was Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira taking on Josh Barnett in the semifinal round of tournament.
The following analysis will break down both rounds of the fight into logical segments to explain the stand-up and groundwork displayed by both fighters as they attempt to work their way into the finals of the tournament.
R1 0:00 – 2:41:
The first round opened up with both fighters wanting to stand and strike. On his feet, Nogueira uses a traditional orthodox boxing stance with his feet parallel and fists clinched. Mauro Ranallo mentions that Nogueira has trained with the Cuban national boxing team, which explains his stance, his ability to work inside on Barnett, and his awareness of staying outside of Barnett’s reach. One big disadvantage of using a traditional boxing stance in MMA is that it does not give you the ability to check leg kicks sufficiently. Barnett, on the other hand, fights from a Thai boxing stance with his hips facing Nogueira and hands open. This stance allows you to get more power into your punches if you throw from the hips and easily check leg kicks. Keeping the hands open to defend is also a good way to get a quick advantage if the fight ends up in a clinch and is particularly helpful in gaining an advantage when kneeing from the clinch. At the onset of the fight, Nogueira controlled the stand-up battle by working on the inside with controlled combinations. Barnett was a little wild with his strikes early, throwing hooks from the outside. When throwing strikes Barnett also tends to make the mistake of stepping in with his head down, which allowed Nogueira to tag him with a combination. They clinched and both fighters began pummeling to get double underhooks. The advantage obtained by holding a double underhook is twofold: it opens more options for upper body takedowns and allows a fighter to better open his opponent up for knees to the body. A disadvantage of the double underhook in that it leaves a fighter open to strikes when breaking from the clinch. As the round went on, Barnett seemed to calm down a little and began to gain an advantage with a few cut kicks to the outside of Nogueira’s knee. After a second clinch, Barnett floored Nogueira with a left hook followed up with a right hook.
R1 2:41 – 4:21
As Nogueira hit the mat, he quickly recovered and went into half guard. From half guard, Nogueira in not in any danger as he has a great ability to pull off an elbow escape and get Barnett into full guard. A sign of a good positional fighter is the use of the elbow escape, as they will use it to transition from half guard, side mount, and mount into full guard. When he found in Nogueira’s full guard, Barnett began using a stalling posture. The stalling posture consists of the man on top burying his head into his opponent’s stomach and controlling the hips. This is a sign that Barnett was willing to strike from Nogueira’s guard and was not confident enough to try a traditional guard pass. Nogueira worked an open guard with one foot on Barnett’s hip and the other buried in between his legs. From looking at his guard, my best guess would be that Nogueira was looking for a sweep to improve his position. However, the open guard allowed Barnett to stand up and pass into half guard with a lunging right hand. Nogueira quickly switched his hip to move back into full guard. As Barnett tried to pass a second time, Nogueira caught the ankle, rose to his feet, and went for a single leg takedown.
R1 4:21 – 6:20
On their feet, Barnett demonstrated some good takedown defense as he forced Nogueira off his leg and into an upper body clinch. It was all for nothing though as Nogueira was able to take him down with an outside trip and quickly pass Barnett’s guard into half guard. From Barnett’s half guard, Nogueira was able to trap Barnett’s right leg to the mat and pass into a scarf hold which he quickly transitioned into side mount. Barnett’s defense from this position was to hold Nogueira close to limit the distance that Nogueira could use to effectively strike and to place his right foot on his left thigh to prevent his opponent from transitioning to the full mount. From side mount, Nogueira seemed content to strike with punches to the head and knees to the ribs, but did not attempt any submissions. Barnett attempted a sweep using his upper body to roll Nogueira and succeeded in moving back to half guard. >From half guard, Nogueira began to posture up to rain down punches which allowed Barnett to attempt another sweep while he was not carrying as much of Nogueira’s weight and both fighters ended up back on their feet.
R1 6:20 – 7:52
As they got to their feet, Nogueira attempted to a single leg takedown. Even though his opponent’s momentum carried him into the corner, Barnett was able to counter with a guillotine choke. Nogueira was calm and quickly escaped to the neutral position by getting in an arm to nullify the choke. Barnett looked out of it on his feet, as he began to throw wildly again, allowing Nogueira to counter with combinations. While it seemed like he would have controlled the fight standing, Nogueira shot in for a leg and transitioned behind Barnett to ride him down to the mat. As he collapsed to the mat, Barnett hit a sweet Granby roll and went for an Achilles lock on Nogueira’s left leg. It was obvious from their positioning that Barnett would not get a submission here as Nogueira also had his right leg, trapped in between Barnett’s legs alleviating the pressure that could be applied. I also do not believe Nogueira would submit to an Achilles lock in the first place. While it is a painful submission, an Achilles lock is not known to be very damaging. Using his right leg, Nogueira was able to push off Barnett and obtain a reversal.
R1 7:52 – 10:00
As Nogueira escaped the leglock, he was quickly able to pass Barnett’s guard into side mount. Ranallo pointed out that Nogueira was attempting a head-and-arm choke, but it was really nothing as Nogueira was riding on the wrong side of Barnett’s body to properly apply the choke. Nogueira was able to transition from side mount into full mount by switching his hips which made the positional change look easy. From mount, Nogueira began raining down punches and hammer fists after creating distance. Then, with about 45 seconds left in the round, Nogueira baited Barnett by attempting an Americana and following back into an arm lock as his opponent reacted. While Barnett’s reaction to the Americana left him susceptible to the arm lock, his only other option was to drop his arms to his hips. This option would have left him open for a front naked choke, so he was basically left to fight out of a submission either way. As Nogueira tried to extend the arm lock, Barnett worked an escape by clasping the arm being attacked onto the bicep of his free arm and using the free arm on the back of Nogueira’s leg to turn into him, create some distance, and pull the arm free. Barnett reversed into side mount and began dropping some hammer fists to the head as time expired.
R2 0:00 – 1:41
Round 2 started off with Barnett throwing a wild right hook that was ducked by Nogueira as he shot in for a single leg. Again, Barnett’s size game into play and he was able to sprawl into a front headlock. Nogueira was quick to get out of there by pulling guard and giving Barnett the top position. On top, Barnett employed a stalling posture in Nogueira’s open guard with Nogueira pushing the action by throwing strikes from the bottom. As he did in the first round, Barnett tried standing up for a punch pass, but Nogueira countered with a hook sweep to obtain the top position in Barnett’s guard.
R2 1:41 – 2:54
In Barnett’s closed guard, Nogueira also decided to employ the stalling posture, but stayed active by throwing punches to the ribs and the head of his opponent. As Barnett opened up his guard to attempt a sweep, Nogueira switched his hips to pass into full mount. However, Nogueira was not able to hold the position long enough to do any damage as Barnett hit and upa and rolled into Nogueira’s guard.
R2 2:54 – 3:57
The reversal took both men close to the ropes and they were reset in the center of the ring with Nogueira having Barnett in his full guard. Barnett again tried for a punch pass as Nogueira opened his guard, but was unsuccessful in gaining a positional advantage. Nogueira came through with a nice amateur wrestling arm drag from the guard to get Barnett off balance and take back mount. From back mount, Nogueira made his biggest mistake in the fight. When a fighter has the opportunity to get someone’s back, they must first control them by getting in the hooks and getting two underhooks to properly turn their opponent to attempt a rear naked choke. In this case, Nogueira was only able to get in one hook before attempting to turn Barnett and apply the choke. This mistake caused him to get up to high on Barnett’s back and fall off, giving Barnett the top position.
R2 3:57 – 5:00
As Barnett escaped back mount, he found himself in Nogueira’s full guard yet again. Since Nogueira was working an open guard Barnett stood up, and was able to pass into half guard while attempting a stomp to Nogueira’s head. In the last 30 seconds of the match, Barnett attempted a kneebar on Nogueira’s far leg from half guard. Nogueira initially blocked the kneebar attempt by spladdling Barnett’s legs, but with 10 seconds to go, Barnett was able to extend the kneebar and hold it until time expired.
OVERALL: The fight went to the judges and Josh Barnett was declared the victor by split decision. Using my own analysis, I could argue a win for either fighter. Standing up, Nogueira controlled the action and looked crisp in tying together combinations. By my count, he landed more strikes. Barnett on the other hand, looked wild and seemed content on throwing single punches, but he did floor Nogueira with two hooks in the first round. Both fighters were absolutely great on the ground throughout the fight as neither could hold a position to do much damage on the ground. However, Nogueira was more active from the top, both in throwing strikes and trying to improve position. He was not able to hold a superior position once he got there due to this aggressiveness, giving Barnett escapes from both full mount and back mount. Both fighters has at least one good submission attempt during the fight. Nogueira attempted and arm lock in the last 30 seconds of the first round, which Barnett was able to escape from as time expired. Barnett submission attempt came near the end of the second round as he extended a knee bar as time expired. Thus, I have to give the fight to Barnett based on the fact that Nogueira was, as far as we know, saved by the bell.