Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has been one of the most successful heavyweights in the history of mixed martial arts.
But the question is—can Nogueira still compete with the sport’s top stars?
Nogueira has only fought three times in the past two-and-a-half years, and he lost two of those fights. Both Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez finished Nogueira by knockout. Nogueira’s only win over that time period was a decision victory over Randy Couture.
Nogueira could be close to the end of his storied career, in which he held both the Pride heavyweight championship and the UFC interim heavyweight championship.
Now ready to resume his career, he is preparing for a fight with fast-rising prospect Brendan Schaub.
Since losing in The Ultimate Fighter season 10 finale to Roy Nelson, Schaub is on a run of four straight wins. Among the fighters Schaub has beaten are Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop.
“Schaub is a tough young guy,” Nogueira recently told Bleacher Report, “I feel great to be getting back in the Octagon, and I am very excited to be fighting at home.”
Even though Nogueira would appear to be playing the gatekeeper role in this bout, the former champion is not thinking about retirement just yet.
“I think I can fight a few more years,” Nogueira said. “I’m in good shape right now. Stronger than before.”
The upcoming fight with Schaub will take place on the televised portion of the UFC 134 pay-per-view this coming Saturday.
The match-up will also mark the first time Nogueira has not been in the main-event or co-main event since his UFC debut back in July 7 2007.
At this point, Nogueira will need to make a big impression to get back into contention. The oddsmakers do not necessarily agree that he will be successful. Schaub is currently listed as a 2 ½ to 1 favorite.
Coming back after a year-and-a-half absence, Nogueira was not concerned about who he was facing.
“Whoever they put me in to fight, I’ll be ready,” the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt said. “If I have a chance to fight for the title, I’d love to.”
Nogueira would quickly change his mind though if the champion is Junior Dos Santos. Dos Santos, Nogueira’s close protégé, is set to face off with UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in October.
“He’s not the type of guy I just train with,” Nogueira said, when asked if he'd want to challenge for the title if Dos Santos won. “He stays with me.”
Nogueira believes Dos Santos has a great chance in the title fight.
“He’s very comfortable,” Nogueira said. “He has fast hands and improved a lot of his wrestling. He’s the top of the weight division. Very exciting to watch him fight.”
Should Nogueira have a successful restart in his career, someone he could see himself crossing paths with is former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.
However, Lesnar would first have to recover from his second bout of diverticulitis.
“I hope he comes back,” Nogueira said. “Everybody wants to see him fight again. He’s a strong guy. He’s a very strong guy to fight with me. I want to see him healthy.”
Nogueira has also spoken of his desire to have a rematch with his former The Ultimate Fighter rival, Frank Mir. Mir defeated Nogueira by TKO back in December 2008.
After the fight, UFC President Dana White stated that Nogueira had just gotten over a staph infection in the weeks leading up to the bout.
Originally, the two former champions were slated to have a rematch last September, but Nogueira pulled out in order to have surgery on both of his knees.
Even though it has been close to three years since Nogueira and Mir first fought, Nogueira still does not respect the trash-talking Mir does.
“I don’t like that,” Nogueira said about Mir’s interview style. “I have to be confident, but I’m not going to say anything bad.”
Unlike Mir’s pre-fight gamesmanship, Nogueira has nothing negative to say about the fast-rising prospect.
However, after his recent losses as well as his recent medical problems, Nogueira has to win this fight so that nothing negative is said about him. This fight represents a genuine crossroads for the highly decorated star.
With a win, Nogueira can quickly get back into the title picture, but with a loss, Nogueira may have to seriously consider what should be next.