As he prepares for his headlining bout against Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night 39 on Friday, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is feeling a bit nostalgic.
It’s been more than four years since Nogueira (34-8-1 MMA, 5-4 UFC) fought outside of North or South America, but travelling across the globe to fight Nelson (19-9 MMA, 6-5 UFC) in Abu Dhabi has reminded him of his days under the now-defunct PRIDE banner in Japan.
“I really miss that time,” Nogueira told MMAjunkie. “It was a wonderful time in my life, and I would not change a single thing that took place in the organization.”
While Nogueira has had his successes since joining the UFC roster in 2007, the most significant moments of his career came during his stint in PRIDE, where he held the now-defunct Japanese organization’s heavyweight championship for more than a year.
Although Nogueira claimed the interim heavyweight belt in the UFC, he – now more than seven years after his final PRIDE appearance – still feels his time in Japan was the greatest of his career.
“I think there isn’t much comparison (between PRIDE and the UFC); they are two different realities,” Nogueira said. “Thank God I managed to become champion in both organizations, but of course I reached my apex fighting in Japan.”
Having fought a total of 30 times in his combined PRIDE and UFC careers, Nogueira has faced a who’s who of the world’s top competitors – some on more than one occasion. While some vets can’t reflect on their accomplishments until their career is over, Nogueira has no such issues, he said. He can fondly point to the highest moments and, just as easily, share what he views as the lowest of his personal lows.
“The high points were the victory over Bob Sapp, my first fight in Brazil [UFC 134], and [winning] the PRIDE and UFC championships,” Nogueira said. “The lows were the various injuries I’ve had throughout my career. When dealing with some of my injuries, I didn’t know if would be able to fight again.
At 37, Nogueira is slowing down considerably with each passing fight. He hasn’t made any firm commitments toward retirement, but as he gets older, the nagging injuries take longer to heal and make him think about the day when he won’t be able to fight any longer.
“With age, recovering from injuries becomes increasingly difficult,” Nogueira said. “But it’s a normal part of our lives as fighters. I have not yet planned out my life after fighting. I do have several other ventures outside of MMA, so I intend to keep the ball rolling after I retire.”
Retirement isn’t in Nogueira’s immediate plans, but defeating Nelson in Friday’s UFC Fight Pass-streamed headliner is.
“Big Country” has also faced a plethora of the division’s top talent over the years. While he’s accrued an adequate record in those fights, Nelson has never been submitted or stopped with strikes in his 11-fight UFC career.
With up to five rounds of fighting on tap, Nogueira will have ample opportunity to be the first to do it. And of course, “Minotauro” believes he’s more than capable of accomplishing that feat.
“Nelson is a tough fighter,” Nogueira said. “I know he has never been submitted or knocked out in the UFC, but I believe I have the capacity to do it. I am also prepared to go all five rounds if necessary.”