Heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has been on a roller-coaster ride for nearly four years. He’d win a fight then lose, win a fight then lose again.
Consistency has eluded Nogueira, who has not won back-to-back bouts since February 2008, when he capped a three-fight streak by claiming the UFC interim title with a third-round submission of Tim Sylvia. He is 3-3 since.
But “Big Nog,” who submitted Dave Herman during his most recent outing at UFC 153 on Oct. 13, 2012, vows to win his second straight fight Saturday night when he faces Fabricio Werdum in the UFC on Fuel TV 10 main event in Fortaleza, Brazil. He has never been more determined to keep a prefight promise.
Despite his recent ups and downs, the 37-year-old Nogueira hasn’t relinquish his goal of making one more run at a title shot. A win over Werdum, who is ranked No. 4 among heavyweights by ESPN.com, could land him a fight against No. 3-rated Daniel Cormier.
Wins over Werdum and Cormier would extend Nogueira’s streak to three and almost assure him of a title shot. But first, he must pull off the upset Saturday night.
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Nogueira is a big underdog, but he likes it this way. Proving that he is still a force in the heavyweight has increased his determination. Big Nog has covered all the bases during preparation for this fight.
“I see myself in a good position, going against a high-level fighter like Werdum,” Nogueira told ESPN.com. “He’s a tough fighter, but I’m very motivated. And sometimes the motivation makes you train more. I’m in good shape.”
The former Pride champion has been in many tough battles en route to compiling a 34-7-1 professional record. Nogueira has experienced many bumps and bruises throughout his 14-year MMA career, but after a solid training camp, he is fully healthy and feels like a man in his physical prime — and Nogueira is injury-free.
It also helps that he already has a win over Werdum. The two fought on July 1, 2006, while in Pride. Big Nog exited the ring that night a winner by unanimous decision.
Nogueira admits that his opponent is a much better fighter now than when they first met, but he adds that his own skills are also more refined.
There is one area, however, where Nogueira expects to have the advantage — experience, especially standing. Both Nogueira and Werdum have advanced jujitsu skills, but whoever wins the stand-up battle will have the edge on fight night.
“He has improved in kickboxing, but I am comfortable doing kickboxing and boxing,” Nogueira said. “I’ve been doing this a long time.
“He’s strong, he pushes, and he has a lot of tricks in jujitsu. I know he’s improved, but so have I. I know it’s not an easy fight, but I believe in myself.”
Nogueira has never experienced an up-and-down run like the one he’s on. Some observers have begun hinting that his time as an elite heavyweight has passed. It’s even been whispered that maybe it’s time for him to call it a career.
But Nogueira doesn’t entertain such thoughts; retirement is not on his agenda. He’s focused solely on making it two wins in a row — over Werdum and on his current ledger. If Nogueira accomplishes this feat Saturday night, talk of a title shot is sure to heat up.
“If I win this fight, there is a good chance I will be in a good position to get that pot of gold, to have a chance to get the belt,” Nogueira said. “This is real important to me, and I don’t want to miss that chance.”