LAS VEGAS -- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira made history Saturday inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center by becoming the first mixed martial artist to become a champion in both the UFC and Pride heavyweight divisions.
"Minotauro" weathered an early scare from the large Tim Sylvia and wound up submitting the former two-time UFC heavyweight champion with a textbook guillotine choke early in the third round in front of 10,583 fans.
Sylvia (24-4) professed his desire before the fight to be the first man to knock out the former Pride heavyweight king, and he came within a punch or two of doing so. He cracked Nogueira (31-4-1, 1 NC) early in the first round with a right hand that sent the 31-year-old Brazilian to the canvas.
Sylvia, also 31, pounced on his woozy foe, but once Nogueira cleared his head, the 6-foot-8 "Maine-iac" backed away and allowed his opponent to stand.
Wobbling around the Octagon, Nogueira ate a few more damaging right hands before he was able to pull guard. The American was having no part of the ground game, though, and backed away once again. The opening round ended with Nogueira, nearly 25 pounds lighter than Sylvia, scoring a nifty takedown.
With a clear head, Nogueira slowed the pace of the fight in the second round and began out-boxing Sylvia with crafty footwork and pesky left jabs. His many takedown attempts were stuffed, but that didn't matter, because the Brazilian, who fights out of a Rio De Janeiro gym that houses the likes of Anderson Silva, was putting on a virtual boxing clinic.
Nogueira's success in the second ended when Sylvia staggered him again with a sizzling right hand. The Pat Miletich-trained Sylvia followed up with the same punch, but Nogueira managed to ride out the round.
Less than a minute into the third, Nogueira pulled guard just as Sylvia landed another right hand. With Sylvia on top, Nogueira swiftly swept him and scooted to complete side-control.
"He is a true heavyweight," Nogueira said of Sylvia. "He's a giant. I got many hard punches in this fight. I was waiting for a good opportunity to put him on the ground."
Sensing time was running out, Sylvia desperately scrambled to return to his feet. As he did, Nogueira locked his arms around his adversary's neck and applied an arm-in guillotine. Sylvia tapped almost immediately while Nogueira applied a tremendous amount of leverage.
"I was ready for him to go to the four-points position," said Nogueira, who claimed the interim UFC heavyweight title at the 1:28 mark of the third. "When I got the first one, that's why I like [working] in combinations. Always I try one submission. If it doesn't work, the second one works."
Falling short in his bid for a third UFC heavyweight title, Sylvia acknowledged Nogueira's win as another impressive comeback.
"It's Minotauro Nogueira," a stunned but respectful Sylvia said. "Every fight he's in, he gets his ass kicked for the first 10 minutes. You start getting comfortable fighting him, next thing you know it, he catches you. The guy is a legend in the sport."
Only one fight matters to Nogueira now: a meeting with Randy Couture, whose decision to abdicate the UFC heavyweight title this past October led to the UFC 81 showdown between Sylvia and Nogueira.
"I had many fights in Pride, many battles there," Nogueira said. "And [the UFC] gave me a chance to fight here for the belt. I'm here. I'm waiting for anyone to fight. If it's Randy Couture in the future, if he can come back to the UFC, I'd love to fight against him. Please, Randy, fight against me."
Lesnar (1-1) had Mir (11-3) in serious trouble mere seconds into the contest, but it was a combination of Mir's submission wizardry and Lesnar's inexperience that defined victory.
Lesnar shot in and drove Mir to the canvas a few seconds into the contest. Mir appeared to be in trouble as he faced an onslaught of attacks, until Lesnar inadvertently landed punches to the back of the Las Vegas-based heavyweight's head. Referee Steve Mazzagatti halted the battle and took a point from Lesnar, although a warning would have sufficed.
Back on their feet, the fighters exchanged pleasantries with their fists, but Lesnar, fighting out of Minneapolis, Minn., was a bit more forceful with his deliveries. A short right hand dropped Mir, 28, to his back, and Lesnar again pounced, trying to put his fallen opponent away. With Lesnar pouring on punches, Mir tried to secure an armbar. However, Lesnar's arm was just too massive, and Mir let go of the hold.
Lesnar, 30, continued to rain down strikes with fists encased in triple-XL MMA gloves. Just as Mir's window of opportunity was about to slam shut, the 2000 NCAA wrestling champion postured up, and Mir caught him in a kneebar.
Within seconds of the hold, Lesnar tapped out.
"He pulled out of the armbar earlier, so Marc Laimon showed me that if the legs stay stationary, I switch to a kneebar," Mir said of the finish he learned from one of the top jiu-jitsu competitors and coaches. "It was kind of actually a loose kneebar. His knee was coming out, so I put it behind and drove up to it."
The official time of the submission came at 1:30 of the first round, but the fight, as short-lived as it might have been, was one of sheer intensity and had the near-capacity crowd on its feet from the outset.
"Let's face it, I had Brock Lesnar, that monster over there, dropping elbows on my head, and I pulled through," Mir said.
Lesnar, although disappointed he didn't devour Mir in his UFC debut, had no shame in his performance and made no excuses.
"I came out trying to pressure Frank," Lesnar said. "We questioned his heart. I was just trying to get a bunch of shots in on him. I left my leg there. We've been practicing that. It's like, you know, you go back to the drawing board every day in the workout room. No excuses. He's a top-notch jiu-jitsu guy. He got me tonight -- he's a better fighter.
"You win some, you lose some. I'd like to win them all, but you can't."
Marquardt pummels Horn
Marquardt (26-7-2) delivered several stinging punches to Horn's face and even dropped him late in the first round with a beautiful right elbow to the jaw. Horn (79-17-5) pulled guard and cleared his head, but two gogoplata attempts were thwarted by Marquardt.
Early in the second round, after a scramble back to their feet, Marquardt applied a standing guillotine choke. He dropped down when Horn tried to escape, and Horn tapped at the 1:37 mark.
Almeida (9-2) swiftly scored a double-leg takedown and latched on a guillotine. Although Yundt (6-1) flung himself and Almeida into the air in an attempt to slam his way out of the choke, the New York-based middleweight held on to secure the tapout in just 68 seconds.
• Tyson Griffin (11-1) and Gleison Tibau (15-5) battled their hearts out for three grueling rounds. It was Griffin's more accurate and damaging strikes throughout the contest that sealed the deal for the Xtreme Couture lightweight. Griffin was awarded a unanimous decision, winning via tallies of 30-27 on all three judges' cards.
From there, Lytle (25-15-5) swarmed his stunned opponent with punches until referee Yves Lavigne stopped it. Bradley (13-5, 1 NC) was so battered he pulled Lavigne into his guard when the ref stopped the mugging.
• Tim Boetsch was too much for David Heath as he scored an impressive TKO at 4:52 in the first round. Boetsch peppered Heath with jabs, leg kicks and front kicks, and routinely forced him to reset his feet.
After he dropped Heath with a right hand, Boetsch (7-1) violently threw his light heavyweight foe into the fence, making Heath (7-3) land on his head. Boetsch then quickly pounced and ended the fight with a barrage of punches.
• Marvin Eastman (15-7-1) defeated Terry Martin (16-4) in a three-round workman-like middleweight performance. The fight was mostly a clinching match, and the vaunted striking power from both men was nonexistent. Eastman wound up winning by margins of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28.
• In the opening bout of the evening, Rob Emerson won a very unpopular split decision over Keita Nakamura. The lightweight fight was as close as they come, but it seemed like Nakamura (14-3-2) landed more and better strikes throughout. Nevertheless, two judges saw the fight 30-27 in favor of Emerson (7-6, 1 NC), while the third had it 29-28 for Nakamura.
Mike Sloan covers MMA for Sherdog.com.