Throughout the history of mixed martial arts, few heavyweights have accrued a more storied career than Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
Over the course of his 15-year career, "Minotauro" has risen to legendary status on the strength of his slick jiu-jitsu skills and immeasurable variables such as heart and determination, which he has relied on to persevere in some of the biggest bouts in the history of the division.
Where the majority of fighters who compete inside the cage operate with a certain level of toughness and grit, "Big Nog" has proven to be in a league of his own in that regard.
The Brazilian grappling ace's resume is among the best of the best, and the 37-year-old's track record of accomplishments during his time in the sport is undoubtedly impressive.
Nogueira rose to prominence under the now-defunct Pride organization in what is widely recognized as the "golden age" of MMA. During his time in Japan, the "Team Nogueira" leader consistently squared off with elite heavyweights, and he carried that momentum with him when he transitioned over to the UFC in 2007.
Nogueira would go on to win the interim heavyweight title in 2008 and is the only heavyweight fighter to have held belts in both Pride and the UFC. Nevertheless, setbacks and injuries have plagued the former champion in recent years as he's attempted to fight his way back into the heavyweight fold inside the Octagon.
The former title contender will be coming off a 10-month layoff when he steps in to trade leather with brick-handed knockout artist Roy Nelson this weekend in Abu Dhabi. Nogueira and "Big Country" are set to scrap it out in the main event of Fight Night 39, and the legendary heavyweight is fired up about his return to action.
Where Nogueira has built a career on the strength of his heart and his willingness to mix things up, he carries the utmost respect for Nelson, whose fighting style is cut from a similar mold. That particular element provided an extra push as Nogueira prepared to face the winner of the 10th season of The Ultimate Fighter, and he's excited to get down to business with Nelson in Abu Dhabi.
"I'm feeling good and motivated," Nogueira told Bleacher Report. "When you fight someone like Roy you have to be well prepared. My body has felt great all throughout this camp. I feel stronger, lighter and let's see what's going to happen on fight night. We've trained very hard for this fight. I have a lot of respect for Roy, but I have a lot of trust in my skills and I think I'm going to do a good war.
"I know he has respect for me and I have the same for him. He's a tough dude and a really tough fighter. Fighting someone like him motivates me to train very hard. But I know he's coming to fight and he's going to try his best to throw his heavy hands. He's going to be looking to grapple as well. I have to be ready for everything and I have prepared for this fight to go everywhere. Getting that respect is great, but a fight is still a fight. When we get inside that cage we are going to see who is the better fighter.
"Fighting has changed a lot in recent years, but Roy and I are kind of old school," he added. "We are both always looking to win by knockout or submission. When you fight that way it is exciting and people love to watch you. It's even exciting for us knowing we are going to get a good fight. It makes you more excited to train and prepare for fights like this. You get excited watching his tapes and when you are working very hard in the gym. It's the kind of fight that really makes you motivated and I'm excited for this fight."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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