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The Relentless Champion Takes His Magic to Japan for the 2nd time in August!
NHB fans rarely seem to agree in any subject, with different fans always defending different fighters from all corners of the World. However, if there's any fighter who is close to a unanimity status in our sport this guy is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, better known as Minotauro. A true champion, Nogueira has been facing all comers in his division, and has wins over the likes of Mark Coleman, Heath Herring, Enson Inoue and most recently Sanae Kikuta, just to name a few. Not only the PRIDE heavyweight champion has all those wins in his record but he won most of them by submission, showing probably a never seen before dominance in the heavyweight division. Looking to add another impressive accomplishment to his already successful career, Minotauro is about to compete in what promises to be the biggest MMA event ever against a man most fighters are fearing right now, the monster who attends by the name of Bob Sapp! Not only that, but this will be the second time Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira steps in the ring in less than a month, showing how much he loves to compete, and most of all showing his is a man of his word. Just one day before he left for Japan, Minotauro spoke with FCF about his last fight against Kikuta, and his upcoming challenge against Sapp and more. As the heath is already extremely high for Shockwave, Full Contact Fighter engages the Champion for yet another challenge...
FCF: You fought recently at UFO, beating Sanae Kikuta by knockout. Did the fight go how you expected? What did you think of your performance?
ARN: I liked my performance because I could change my strategy during the fight. I went there looking to do more of a ground game with him, well, I went to fight on the ground and standing because it was an NHB fight, not a Jiu Jitsu fight, but I was looking for a ground fight against him. However he was not allowing a lot of positions on the ground, cause he has a very stalled game. He positions himself very well and he defends the positions very well too. I tried to get him on a triangle but he stood up, I tried to get him on a footlock but he escaped well, and he was fighting very conservative inside my guard. He wasn't trying to pass my guard and wasn't moving a lot. So I realized there that he would try to stall the fight and take it to a judges' decision, and I changed my strategy. I told him to get up, I got a bit nervous and wanted to end the fight quickly. I got impatient. In all of my fights I get a bit impatient if the fight starts to look like it'll go for a judges' decision, and I start to want to finish it quickly.
FCF: Did he frustrate you on the ground in the first round, so you came for the second round looking to trade strikes standing up?
ARN: For sure. He was stalling a bit, and if he played more openly in the ground I could've played more of a ground game with him. But since he got up and risked kicking myself, I guess he wanted to trade strikes. He left his guard open, and this is a position that I train a lot so you go and figure it out [Laughs]
FCF: There was a big controversy regarding your participation at UFO. When you finally got to Japan, how were things with PRIDE regarding your participation in UFO? Was there a lot of resistance to allow you to fight in it?
ARN: Before I went to Japan there was some resistance from PRIDE, because they feared I would fight in UFO and wouldn't fight at PRIDE Shockwave now. Since Shockwave is a joint venture with K1, PRIDE would have to get some fighters on the show, and since I'm their Heavyweight champion and they are doing a huge event on a 100,000 spectators stadium, therefore they need big names to attract the public, there was a pressure for me to fight in this event. But I never said "no" to PRIDE. Before I fought in UFO I gathered with the PRIDE representatives, we had a meeting before the fight, and they were afraid their champion could lose to Kikuta in another event, who is a good fighter but not a champion yet. So we had this meeting two days before my fight, we talked and I guaranteed them that I would fight at Shockwave so they didn't oppose to my fight at UFO. I gave them my word that I would fight in both events, and that I would win in UFO, since they were afraid I wasn't going to fight in great physical conditions and could lose to Kikuta because of it.
FCF: Your brother Rogerio Nogueira was surprised in a judges' decision, losing to Vladimir Matyushenko. How was it for you to be in the locker room warming up and receive the news that your brother lost for the first time in his career?
ARN: I was watching his fight in the locker room. In fact it's normal, because an athlete can always end up losing when the strategy doesn't work and stuff like this. No fighter is obligated to always win, and he was coming of three wins and suffered a defeat now. It was even good because he will improve in terms of strategy, because I think an NHB fighters needs to have several strategies. He was fighting for the takedowns a lot with a Greco-Roman fighter. This was not good, it ended up that he fought his opponent's game. They didn't trade a lot of strikes, and on the ground the guy would even get in some good positions after the takedowns, but when Rogerio would put him in his guard and try to attack an arm he would get up again, and they would fight Greco once again. So, in fact, Rogerio fought his opponent's fight. The guy took him down, had a advantage when he landed at Rogerio's side, with his guard passed, but it ended up he didn't hit him a lot so I think it was a case of bad strategy.
FCF: But did his lost affected you backstage? Did it get you more motivate?
ARN: No, I'm a professional. Well, it affected a bit in terms of concentration to be honest with you, but in fact I even like to fight in the same day as my brother, cause we train together and stuff. We help each other in training and I think this is important. But it didn't affect me much, it got a bit nervous before my fight but I was soon back to my usual concentration.
FCF: Being an experienced fighter, with several appearances in PRIDE and Rings, what did you think of UFO as an event? What was your impression of the event, since several people reported it was a failure in terms of live audience, but with good TV ratings?
ARN: This event wasn't made for the live audience; the event was made for TV. It was broadcast live by one of the most important channels in Japan and they estimate it had 7 million TV sets watching it, and since each TV set usually has more than 1 person watching it, they estimate it had from 17 to 21 million people watching it live! It was the first NHB event to be broadcast live on primetime in Japan, and for three straight hours. It was a mark in the Japanese television history, and NHB is now even more popular there. Now K1 and PRIDE will also do this huge event, Shockwave, so I think now NHB is growing even more in Japan. I think UFO had a very good production; it was made for TV and very well organized. I will have another UFO for sure, probably in January, but due to contractual issues I don't know if I'll fight in it.
FCF: You are now going to fight for the second time in less than a month! You were already in shape for your fight against Kikuta, and now you have been training for Shockwave. Do you expect to enter the ring at the 28th in an even better shape than in UFO?
ARN: For sure! My fight against Kikuta served as a preparation for my next fight at Shockwave. I wasn't in my best condition there; I can say that I was around 80% of my condition in that fight. Now I'm a bit better. I have some muscular pains now because I couldn't rest properly after my last fight, but in terms of cardio and strength I'm fine. I got back to Brazil on a Monday, and on the same Monday I already started training again. I only rested two days there [in Japan] after my fight, and I have been working non-stop. I think this is the secret, a lot of work and continuing to train! I kept training and my stamina improved even more. I think now I have an even better stamina.
FCF: Your opponent now will be the giant Bob Sapp. There was a big rumor that you would face K-1 fighter Mark Hunt. How did Sapp come up as an opponent? And what do you think of him as a fighter?
ARN: In fact they offered me this fight against Hunt under K1 rules. I asked around 4 months to prepare for me to fight under K1 rules, so I could stop training ground fighting. Since I'm an NHB fighter I train in several things, including Muay Thai around 4 to 5 times a week, but not with the level of intensity I needed to train if I was going to fight K1. I'm a fighter with a name to take care of, so I need to always enter prepared when I'm going to fight. So I offered a fight against him under NHB rules now, and a rematch next year under K1 rules, when I would be more trained for it, but Mark Hunt didn't accept it. Since he didn't accept it Bob Sapp's name came up. I guess nobody wanted to fight Bob Sapp and some other PRIDE fighters already had their fights matched. I accepted the fight, cause I'm not afraid of big guys [Laughs] I think he is a very strong fighter, a dangerous fighter but in terms of strategy he has some weak points in his game, and I'm going to exploit those points.
FCF: Did your training for this fight changed a lot in comparison with your training for the fight against Kikuta? Do you have sparring partners as big as he is to train with?
ARN: I have some heavy sparring partners for sure, not as heavy as him, but 120kg guys. I'm trying to move more now than in my fight against Kikuta. In that fight I was caring more about my strength, training more in a sort of tight game. Now I'm moving more, since I feel I will need to move well to be able to win this fight.
FCF: Do you believe it is possible to develop a good ground game, full of moves and transitions, against someone as heavy as he is?
ARN: I think it's possible to develop some positions, but I think I'm going to lose half of my positions because of his size. He is a huge guy, he is not a normal person [Laughs] but from where I came from, in Bahia, I already saw 50kg guys holding a bull by his horns! So, let's try to get this monster too [Laughs]
FCF: Well, at least he won't be bigger than the truck that ran over you in the past! [Laughs]
ARN: And he is not a bull either [Laughs]
FCF: Will your striking skills become a good option for this fight?
ARN: I'm only going to engage him standing up when the right opportunity appears, I'm not going to rush things standing up with him, if he leaves some space open then I'll throw my punches. The same thing goes for the takedown and ground parts, I'm only going to enter when the right opportunity appears. I'll play to do a more tactical fight against him.
FCF: This event promises to be the largest MMA event ever, with close to 100,000 spectators on hand to watch it. What do you think about fighting in such a large event? Will your PRIDE belt be on the line?
ARN: Every PRIDE event is huge. The UFO event was a very important event, very well organized, but PRIDE is a show! Since PRIDE already held more than 20 events they know how to do things. They have an opening show, with a band playing or some special act, with a lot of lights and stuff. Every time they hold an event they always make a big thing, so I already have a notion of how this will be. NHB is growing a lot. I already fought for an audience of 500 people, like I fought for 1000, 5000 and even fought for 60,000 people and for me it's always the same. I don't have much vanity in fighting for a lot of spectators. I'll give my all in the same way if I fight for 500 people, like if I fight for 100,000 people, it doesn't change that much. But for the sport of NHB this event will be very good, for the sport's promotion. As for the belt, this fight won't have my belt on the line. I believe I'll put my belt on the line in November. It can be in September or November, but I believe it'll be in November.
FCF: You have been proving your word to the fans and promoters, showing you want to fight a lot and always against the best! What's the next step for Minotauro after this fight?
ARN: I'll try to defend my belt, cause I couldn't defend my belt this year yet, since I got injured. I believe I'll face the winner of Heath Herring vs. Emelianenko Fedor in November. I'll try to defend my belt and I want to fight against the best. If I fought against Kikuta who is a lighter guy, so people could say, "Man, he is way lighter than him", I fight against heavier guys as well like Sapp. I don't pick opponents. There are a lot of people who barely fight and talks a lot. I'm the opposite. As long as I have physical conditions to fight, I'll fight. I may even not win the fight, but I'm there stepping in the ring, and always fighting.
FCF: Do you think you can even fight in the September PRIDE card as well, or would you prefer to fight only in November?
ARN: I would prefer to fight in November. I want to take some time off after this fight, like one or two months for vacation and stuff. I need to lift weights a bit more, because I had a problem with my back and I need to get back to my treatment, and also strengthen my muscles to avoid any future injuries. Last year I fought in three PRIDE events in a row and ended up getting injured.
FCF: Do you have any message for your future opponents this time?
ARN: For my future opponents I want to say that they'll have to train a lot to be able to get me [Laughs] I'm a guy that works a lot, and when I enter the ring I enter it respecting them all, but determined to win. I don't fight just to fight and I don't fight only for the money, I fight to win!
FCF: As always, any final message for your fans?
ARN: For my fans I want to say that I'll be coming back to Japan once again, in less than twenty days, to give them a good show once again, and try to do my best for them. I'm going to come back to Japan in less than twenty days to show that I have my word and I don't want to be in a bad situation with PRIDE. I want to always have a good relationship with them because I'm a PRIDE fighter and have a contract with them, and whenever I'm in good physical conditions and they need me, I'll be there fighting.
FCF: The best of luck for you!
ARN: Thanks a lot!
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