For a 37-year-old with a resume any fighter would envy, this should be the victory lap, a time to make that last go-round before walking into the sunset and picking up a Hall of Fame induction.
But that just wouldn’t be Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Despite closing in on the big 4-0, the Brazilian icon and the only man to hold a UFC and PRIDE heavyweight title is more determined than ever to prove that he’s still one of the best in the world at what he does.
“I'm always training and I want to show in this fight that I am still one of the top guys in my weight class,” said Nogueira, who headlines the UFC Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi tomorrow against Roy Nelson. The bout is his first since a June 2013 loss to Fabricio Werdum, and while most fighters don’t want a nearly year-long break, Nogueira believes it was a positive thing.
“The time off was good,” he said. “It gave me a chance to recover and get back in the gym with no pressure.”
And once he returned, it was like coming home once again, as he was free from the outside world’s distractions and able to follow his life’s passion.
“I like what I do,” he said. “I like training, I like being in the gym, helping my teammates, and the best fighters in the world train at out gym, so I am always training, always learning.”
At this point, it’s why Nogueira does what he does. It’s not about the money (though that’s always nice), and it’s not about the glory (as he’s had his share). He likes to spend time with his friends, learn new techniques, and then test them out on fight night. And when the bell rings, the goal is to prove that when he’s on, there’s still no one better. It’s a philosophy shared by Nelson, and the mutual respect the two have is evident.
“He is a tough guy who has not been stopped in the UFC,” said Nogueira of Nelson. “This is a fight that can go to the ground or can stay on our feet, and I'm prepared for five tough rounds if needed, but I am confident I can finish this fight.”
Three of Nogueira’s last four wins in the Octagon have seen him end things before the judges got involved, as he submitted Dave Herman and Tim Sylvia and knocked out Brendan Schaub. Nelson’s reputation for taking matters into his own hands is even more stellar, as all six of his UFC victories have come by knockout. Of course, both have had some key losses surrounding those wins, making a victory tomorrow even more important, but with these two veterans, it’s always been about the fight, not just the end result.
It’s why Nogueira has been so revered over the years, not just at home in Brazil, but around the globe. He even has a large following in Abu Dhabi, where he competed in the region’s renowned grappling tournament in 2001.
“Abu Dhabi is the motherland for grappling competition,” said Nogueira. “Jiu-Jitsu has always been very respected, and there is a long history of the sport here. As athletes here we were always very respected, even at a time when the rest of the world did not know our sport.”
Nogueira even went to the site of the fight early to acclimate and visit with the people who have followed him for so long.
“I arrived here about two weeks before the fight,” he said. “We have a great gym here so there is an infrastructure for us to train and acclimate before the fight.”
Rested. Acclimated. Still hungry. That makes Nogueira one dangerous 37-year-old.
To watch UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson exclusively on UFC Fight Pass on Friday, April 11, sign up here
Nogueira: More History Left to Make
"I'm always training and I want to show in this fight that I am still one of the top guys in my weight class." - "Minotauro" Nogueira