UFC light heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira knows any time he signs a bout agreement, as he did for this weekend’s UFC on FOX 12 event, there are going to be doubts about his ability to make it through training camp and show up on fight night.
Nogueira has fought just five times dating back to his promotional debut in February 2009. During that same timeframe, he’s withdrawn from five scheduled contests due to a series of injuries to his knees to back to neck.
It’s been a trying situation for Nogueira to return to full health, but after nearly 18 full months on the sidelines, the Brazilian said he’s once again ready for battle.
“I’m very excited to go back because I’m injury-free,” Nogueira told MMAjunkie. “I was hurt for nearly two years, but now I’m fine.”
Nogueira hasn’t been seen in the octagon since he pulled off one of the most surprising upsets of 2013 when he edged former 205-pound champion Rashad Evans by decision at UFC 156. Prior to that, he stopped UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz with first-round strikes at UFC 140.
Those wins had Nogueira riding a strong wave of momentum, but the injuries began to pile up.
“There were two problems during that time,” Nogueira said. “I injured my neck, and that kept me from training for some time. Right after that, I hurt my knee and needed meniscus surgery. After recovery, I started training for Rashad. After Rashad, I was well and was scheduled to fight (Mauricio Rua). But toward the end of that training camp, I did some weight training, some leg exercises, and I felt a pinch in my lower back. I had just returned, from the U.S., I think. It was a long flight, and I went to exercise right after landing. I feel that’s the day I hurt my back.
“I kept training, imagining that my back problem was minor, but then I realized that I had a hernia and a pinched nerve in my L5-S1 (lumbosacral joint). I could feel that my left leg lacked strength, with some numbness on my leg and foot, as well as sciatic pain. About 20 days before the fight, I was training every other day. And about 15 days out, I did some MMA training, but I was not able to walk afterward. And what’s when I had to cancel the fight. I underwent treatment for several months. I was only able to return to training around January of this year.”
The 38-year-old Nogueira is 13 years into his pro career. His longevity in the sport makes it no surprise his body is breaking down and is beginning to fail him.
Injuries are obviously part of the sport, but Nogueira’s consistent woes over the past five years have created persistent doubts about his ability to show up and compete at the highest level of the sport. But the PRIDE veteran insists it’s not due a lack of desire.
“I would never miss out on a fight because I wasn’t motivated,” Nogueira said. “That’s why every time I’ve been hurt, I underwent medical exams to prove that I really was in no physical condition to compete. If I’m scheduled and I know I’m hurt, I always seek the best doctors available. I work with the UFC and the athletic commission to see if there’s any way I can still fight.
“The only way I stop training is due to doctor’s orders. Our fans deserve an answer and the satisfaction of knowing what’s going on. That’s because they enjoy our work, and we need them to keep us in the ranking, and to keep us motivated to train. I know I’ll be giving my best for the fans. I know that any time I fight I’ll be motivated to do give my best.“
While “Minotouro” has won his past two fights, the extended break from competition has made him the forgotten man in a rapidly evolving light heavyweight division.
Nogueira (21-5 MMA, 4-2 UFC) hopes to put his name back in the title picture on Saturday when he meets Anthony Johnson (17-4 MMA, 8-4 UFC) in the UFC on FOX 12 co-main event at San Jose’s SAP Center.
Returning to the octagon against an opponent of Johnson’s caliber on the FOX platform is a lot to ask for Nogueira’s return. That could be why oddsmakers have pegged him as a roughly 5-1 underdog to “Rumble.”
The magnitude of his next task in not lost on Nogueira, but he refuses to let his confidence waver. Some fighters in his position would simply relish the opportunity to compete after such a long break; however, Nogueira isn’t going to San Jose just to fight – he’s going to win.
“I think he’s a great adversary,” Nogueira said of Johnson. “This would be one the biggest challenges of my career. He’s up there with ‘Shogun’ and Dan Henderson. I plan to show up and give my best. I’m highly confident. I’m very focused.”
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