(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
FORTALEZA, Brazil – At 37 and with more than 40 professional fights to his name, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is surely on the tail end of one of the most impressive heavyweight careers in MMA history.
But “Big Nog” isn’t thinking about hanging up the gloves just yet. In fact, he thinks there may be one more title run left in his future.
“I’m not quitting yet,” Nogueira told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “You guys always want to put me out of the game, but I’m hungry.”
Nogueira (34-7-1 MMA, 5-3 UFC) and Fabricio Werdum (16-5-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) meet in Saturday’s UFC on Fuel TV 10 main event, which takes place at Paulo Sarasate Arena. The main card airs on FUEL TV (8 p.m. ET) following prelims on Facebook (4:45 p.m. ET).
Werdum is ranked No. 5 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA heavyweight rankings. Nogueira, despite recent injuries and inactivity, sits at No. 11.
The main event serves as a rematch of the pair’s 2006 original encounter, in which Nogueira earned a unanimous-decision win in the now-defunct PRIDE promotion. While the previous victory may ultimately provide Nogueira with an extra dose of confidence heading into the rematch, the 14-year vet knows things have changed.
“Fabricio Werdum is totally different from the last fight,” he said. “He improved a lot. We grappled in our first fight, and I felt his strength. That doesn’t change. But I think before he was more like a jiu-jitsu guy. Now he’s a complete fighter. It’s going to be a new fight.”
Nogueira is 3-2 in his past five fights, but his two most dynamic wins — stoppages against Dave Herman and Brendan Scahub — took place on Brazilian soil. Saturday’s card marks the first UFC event in the country’s northeast region, an area Nogueira once called home.
“It’s always great to fight in Brazil, especially northeast Brazil,” Nogueira said. “There are a lot of tough people here. It’s a tough part of the country, to fight here is amazing for me. It’s like fighting for the first time.
“When you see the crowd, they move you. That’s what we need. That’s what we’re looking for: motivation. I have good motivation.”
Werdum, a 3-1 favorite according to oddsmakers, believes an impressive win could put him in line for a shot at the heavyweight title after current champ Cain Velasquez faces top challenger Junior dos Santos later this year. Nogueira hasn’t been promised such a prize but thinks an inspired performance in front of what’s bound to be a friendly crowd could force UFC officials to view him as a legitimate contender.
“Right now, I’m thinking about each step, especially about this fight,” Nogueira, a former interim titleholder, said. “What’s Fabricio Werdum thinking? That he’s going to have an easy fight? Not at all. I’m going to give my best in this fight.
“I’m thinking about this fight, especially, but if I got a chance to fight for the title, why not?
“I’m good. I’m fast. I’ve got skills enough to do it. I’ve been one of the best heavyweights in the world for the past 12 years.”
In the night’s co-feature, welterweight Leonardo Santos (11-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) meets undefeated 21-year-old William Macario (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) in the final bout of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2? tournament. Like the long-running U.S. version of the reality-show/competition series, the tournament winner is awarded a six-figure UFC contract.
For the latest on UFC on FUEL TV 10, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.