Antonio Rogerio Nogueira believes his bout with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at UFC on Fox 12 is the “perfect matchup” to reintroduce himself as one of the premier contenders at 205 pounds.
After being sidelined for over a year with a lingering back injury, the MMA legend will make his long-awaited UFC return on Saturday night at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. When speaking with Bleacher Report, the man known as “Lil Nog” could hardly contain his excitement to finally be able to fight again.
“Yes, [I am] 100 percent,” Nogueira said through an interpreter over the phone. “I’m very, very happy to be back. I trained really well for this fight. MMA is everything in my career, and one year is much too long for being not present and I’m super happy that I’m going to get to perform against a great fighter.”
On the surface, UFC on Fox 12 looks to be all about the No. 1 contender’s bout between top welterweights Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown, but a closer look will reveal the potential title implications for the winner of Johnson vs. Nogueira as well.
Johnson, who is currently on a seven-fight win streak, is coming off a stunning upset victory over Phil Davis at UFC 172. Meanwhile, Nogueira has back-to-back wins over former UFC champions Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz.
“We’re both right up there on the list, and there’s a possibility of thinking about it. I hope I’m the next title shot contender,” Nogueira said.
With Alexander Gustafsson battling a knee injury, there is always the possibility that the winner of Nogueira and Johnson leapfrogs to the forefront of the title picture. But for now, it’s all about taking things in stride and focusing on Johnson for Nogueira.
The maturity and growth of Johnson has been truly astonishing. Initially, he was considered a bit of a nomad in the sport, drifting and competing in various weight classes. But a newfound dedication to training after being cut by the UFC back in January 2012 has transformed the 30-year-old fighter into a legitimate dark horse in the light heavyweight division.
After witnessing him rout a top contender like Davis, even Nogueira admits to being impressed with the improvements made by Johnson.
“Yea, I watched [his fight with Davis] a few times. I was very impressed with his endurance and that he fought from the beginning to the end without gassing,” said Nogueira.
Who wins on Saturday night?
There are various levels of intrigue involved in this particular style matchup.
Nogueira, who has proved throughout his career to be a very proficient boxer, will have his hands full dealing with Johnson’s one-punch knockout power. There is also the threat of the takedown. Despite his vastly improved striking, Johnson’s wrestling remains one of the best weapons in his arsenal.
Nogueira did a tremendous job of shutting down Evans’ wrestling and besting the stand-up exchanges a little over a year ago. Not only does he hope to build on that performance against Johnson, but he’s also hoping to get a finish this time around.
“It’s a perfect matchup for me. I prepared myself even much better for [Johnson than I did Evans],” said Nogueira. “I’m going to submit him.”
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.