Former PRIDE heavyweight and current UFC interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is only 32 years of age but is already a legend in the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the sport of mixed martial arts.
Despite an amazing resume that includes a 31-4-1 record with notable victories over Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett, Fabricio Werdum, Ricco Rodriguez, Mirko Cro Cop, Sergei Kharitonov, Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson, Bob Sapp, and Semmy Schilt, Nogueira still has yet to become the star in the U.S. that he was in Japan.
However, starting this Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET, things for Nogueira will change as make his reality television debut and begins to reap the benefits of being attached to the UFC’s most prominent marketing vehicle: “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Nogueira and Frank Mir will serve as opposing coaches on this year’s show as they each will get the opportunity to work with four lightweight and four light heavyweight fighters striving for the goal of becoming the next Ultimate Fighter. Then on Dec. 27 in Las Vegas, the two will square off for Nogueira’s interim heavyweight title and the right to face the winner of the Randy Couture vs. Brock Lesnar heavyweight title fight scheduled for UFC 91 on Nov. 15.
Even though the show has yet to air, Nogueira is already reaping the benefits from being involved with the show, as he’s receiving a lot of exposure after having done a media tour for the show on behalf of Spike TV last week. During his tour, FiveOuncesOfPain.com received an opportunity for an exclusive interview where we discussed Minotauro’s experience on TUF; his feelings about the return of Randy Couture and whether he resents him for leaving in the first place; his prediction on the Couture vs. Lesnar fight; his thoughts on Rafael Feijao and Lyoto Machida, and more.
Sam Caplan: Can you talk about your experience as a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter?”
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I had a good time and I had a good team. Before I became a professional fighter I was a jiu-jitsu coach and I did some boxing as well. So I had good coaching experience. I coach the Nogueira team with my brother in Brazil, where I coach jiu-jitsu and MMA. So to me it wasn’t that hard of a job. My team helped me a lot. They were all very good. So it was a good time and a good experience to coach on the show.
Sam Caplan: When Randy Couture left, you expressed in interviews that you would have liked an opportunity to fight him for the title. Did you take it as a sign of disrespect that he was so focused on a fight with Fedor that he felt he need to walk away instead of fighting you?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I don’t care what other people say. I care about doing my job and reaching my goal. My goal is to fight for the belt. I wanted to fight Couture when I came to the UFC and he left. But he is back now and I could have a chance to fight against him. My goal is to fight Randy and to win the fight. I am thinking a lot about it and I intend to do everything in my strength to fight for the belt.
Sam Caplan: How do you feel about Brock Lesnar getting the first opportunity to fight Randy Couture for the heavyweight title?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Brock Lesnar is a marketable fighter. He could be big in the UFC and I think he’s good for business. He’s a good fighter and in his early fights he’s shown he’s legit and that’s why he’s getting a chance. He’s a fighter with a style that makes things harder for Randy Couture because he’s a wrestler. Lesnar will probably try to play the top. But Couture is a more experienced fighter and I think he’s going to do better in the stand up with his hands and that’s why I think he’s going to be the winner of that fight.
Sam Caplan: Your twin brother, Rogerio Minotoro, is an extremely talented fighter in his own right. Has he ever been offered an opportunity to compete for the UFC?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Rogerio Nogueira is fighting for Affliction now and he’s very satisfied there. (But) I’d love to see us fighting again for the same organization. The UFC might be good for him. It’s a good name and a good brand. But for now, he’s fighting for Affliction.
Sam Caplan: You’re a co-trainer of EliteXC light heavyweight Rafael Feijao. He has demolished his competition so far. How do you think he would be in the UFC light heavyweight division?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I think that whenever he goes to the UFC that he’s going to do great. He’s a really good talent; a great fighter. He’s one of the best at 205 in the world right now. He’s new to a lot of people but they’ve got to see this guy. I first saw him a couple of years ago. I was going to buy a farm and he was studying to be a veternarian and I saw him walking a goat. He said some things to me. So I go to his house and he had mats there and I found out he was a black belt in jiu-jitsu. So I rolled with him. The first time I trained with this guy I thought he was going to be a champ. So I asked him to become a professional fighter and to move to my place. And he immediately started out very well in his training but I pushed him very hard for years. He trained three times a day every day for three or four years and now he’s a big name. He’s going to going to be the champ for Elite(XC) for sure and in the future when he gets to the UFC he’s going to be a beast.
Sam Caplan: Speaking of Feijao, I was at his last fight in July in Stockton when he beat Travis Galbraith. And after the fight I went back to my hotel the same night after he had fought I saw you and your brother out jogging at night while everyone was at after-parties. It just surprised me to see you working so hard so late at night with your fight still many months away. Can you talk about the motivation for pushing yourself like that?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: The motivation is that if I want to be the champ, I’ve got to train. My brother was supposed to fight in October so it wasn’t that far. When he has a fight, we train together. And when I have a fight, he trains me and motivates me. That’s why we workout together and we’ve worked together successfully for many years. It’s easy to become a champ but it’s hard to stay there. He keeps me up all the time. He makes me food every day. He takes care of my diet and he takes care of my training. And I take care of his MMA and his jiu-jitsu because I’ve coached boxing and coaches jiu-jitsu. We’ve worked together very hard.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to ask you about another fellow countryman, Lyoto Machida. Do you feel he’s getting the respect he deserves?
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Lyoto Machida deserves a title shot. He’s a good fighter. He’s very successful in his fighting. He’s a very respectful guy. He has a lot of power and good jiu-jitsu. He has good Karate with good kicks. He’s a good athlete and good all-around. He uses combinations and puts on a good show. In his last fight vs. Tito (Ortiz), he dominated the fight. Tito couldn’t put him down or control him. He had a hard time with him so I think he deserves to have a title shot. And when he gets his title shot I believe he’s going to be the 205 champ of the UFC.