Josh Gross
Friday February 19th, 2010

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira says he's ready for one more run at a major title. Sunday in Sydney, Nogueira, the 33-year-old Brazilian great, faces a crucial test that should determine the course and legitimacy of that path.

Speaking with on the eve of his UFC 110 main event title against undefeated heavyweight Cain Velasquez, "Minotauro," who reigned as Pride champion prior to the emergence of Fedor Emelianenko, discussed his preparation, determination and motivation after 11 years as a pro fighter.

There is no doubt that Nogueira (32-5-1) will go down as one of the best of this or any era. Defeating Velasquez, a 7-0 prospect tabbed by many as the future of MMA's heavyweight division, will only add to his legacy, and put him in position once again to hold a major championship belt. When you fight a strong wrestler, do you have to change your approach the way that you train jiu-jitsu?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Yeah, it's important for me to have some good wrestlers to train with. I've been training good with Mark Munoz. I've been training with "King" Mo Lawal. That I know will help me a lot. If Cain throws me, he's a better wrestler and I need to fight my game on the ground. I've been working on getting on getting in good positions on the ground when he throws me. I'm feeling good. My defense to getting thrown is getting very good right now. And I improved a lot the last few months. Has your approach to jiu-jitsu changed over the years? The basic armbar, triangle finishes from the guard -- the things that you were so good at early in your career -- don't seem to be as effective as they once were.

Nogueira: My opponents have seen me fight a lot so they know what I do and have learned to anticipate it. It's harder to get those positions, but I've been doing a lot of submission games with Allan Goes. I have a good coach that matches up with my game. How important is speed in this fight? Cain would seem to have an advantage there. Do you feel like your reactions are good and you can surprise him with you speed?

Nogueira: I improved my athleticism with Todd Norman; he's a trainer of guys in the NFL. He helped improve my foot speed, my coordination. It's way better than it was before. This is the second camp I've done with him. You can see from the fight I had with Frank Mir and the fight I had with Randy Couture to now, I've always been improving. I don't feel like I've been in this shape since 2004. I'm in better shape now than I was in those five years when I was at the top. I'm getting old and better. All the issues you had with injuries and illness, like staph infection, did that make you cautious at all about getting back on the mat?

Nogueira: Oh man, I had staph for over a year. I took a lot of antibiotics in Brazil, but it wasn't good. Over the last year I had a lot of fever. I felt sick and didn't have energy for training. It started in October 2008, then I had it again in April 2009 and July 2009. But finally in December I went to Las Vegas and [UFC co-owner] Lorenzo Fertitta took me to a very good doctor. His doctor took care of me. We did antibiotics for one and a half months. Everything is fine now. Nothing came back. I feel stronger. I was thinking if I took antibiotics it would be bad for my endurance or my health, but now it's much better. I cleaned my body. My strength is better. My endurance is better. I have more energy. You've had almost 40 pro fights. How is your body holding up? When you wake up in the morning, are you sore? Do you feel the years of fighting and training taking their toll?

Nogueira: Some days I wake up and my neck or back is sore, but now I've been doing a lot of core exercises so my neck and back are strong. I've been doing yoga for almost a year. I was only doing weight lifting before to get my strength, but now it's different. More athletic. You've competed in the UFC since 2007 and the fight against Velasquez is your fifth with the organization. Can you compare what it was like fighting in Pride versus the UFC. What's similar and what's different?

Nogueira: They're very different. In Japan the fight is very cultural. The fans are very quiet the day of the fight. I was in a stadium fighting with 87,000 people and I could hear my sister talking to me. That's different than America. Fans here are very excited when they watch the fight. I can't even hear my corner. It's two different ways. Fighting in the cage brings much more adrenaline than fighting in the ring. When you step inside the Octagon and they close the door, that's really a high adrenaline feeling because they enclose you and one guy in the cage. I'm getting used to the cage. My first three fights in my career were in the cage. Then I only fought in the ring before coming to UFC. Elbows are a big difference. I can use them now and have to defend them. I think you can play your guard better in the ring because there weren't any elbows. I was more comfortable there, but I'm getting used to it and changing my game. What about the way the organizations treated you? How would you compare Pride and the UFC in terms of handling fighters?

Nogueira: I like fighting in the UFC; they're more organized. They tell you three to four months ahead of time for a fight. In Japan, they'd tell me 10 days before who I was fighting. They'd let me know a month and a half before the date, but I had no idea who I was fighting. Sometimes it was six days, and it could change. They always make a good show. The people were nice. The Japanese people treated me very well. They appreciated how I considered the martial arts, the jiu-jitsu and judo. There's some good points and bad points to fight there. The distance was too far from where I used to live in Brazil. It was a 27-hour flight. Now I'm mostly fighting in America so I live in America. My family lives in Florida so I can see them. The people in the UFC are very good. They're good people. We treat each other like a family there. It's a good atmosphere. This fight in Australia is almost like the trips you took to Japan. Do you think your experiences of fighting after long trips, with all that brings including jet lag, will help you against Cain, who's only fought in the U.S.?

Nogueira: I think that's a good advantage for me. I'm used to that. I like traveling. I like to fight in different places. He's only fought in America. I've seen fighters bring their own food for long trips out of the U.S. Is that something you've done?

Nogueira: No. I always have friends in places I go. Because of jiu-jitsu I do a lot of seminars and classes. I always have some team or some people who are contacts. Before I go I call them and find out where I can eat healthy. They know me and know what I like. At this stage of your career, Minotauro, what is motivating you to improve and continue to fight?

Nogueira: We have a good team and we're always training. When my brother trains I help him. Same with Junior dos Santos. Anderson Silva. Mark Munoz. So a good motivation to be in shape is to help them. And, of course, I have a twin brother that does what I do. Since we were 4 years old, we were in martial arts. My father and mother they always wanted me to do my martial arts. I didn't always go to school, but everyday they took me to judo class, jiu-jitsu, karate. We grew up doing that. It's a good lifestyle. When I was 11 years old all my body was broke in a bad accident. [Nogueira was run over by a truck.] My legs were broke. My lungs and my liver were badly damaged. I got healthy because of the training and these sports helped me. I like what I do. It's good to be champ. It's good to hold a title. You have to win this fight if you want to be champion again. What do you think Cain does that makes him a dangerous opponent for you?

Nogueira: He's got good wrestling. He's young. He pushes the fight standing and on the ground. He's good everywhere. His wrestling is his strongest part and he's very good with positions on the ground. He seems to be very tough, too. Strong-willed. Would you agree with that?

Nogueira: He's very tough, like a lot of Mexican fighters. They're very tough. They have a lot of heart. He has a lot of heart, I know that. I like to fight tough guys. I like to test myself. I like to fight strong people. You only get good when you fight someone good. You only get strong when someone pushes you. Will you be disappointed if you never fight Fedor Emelianenko again?

Nogueira: You know, I want to fight the best guys and I'm in the right organization right now. If he's not, I can do nothing for him. I test myself all the time fighting in the UFC. Every time I fight stronger and stronger opponents. If he comes here it would be a pleasure to fight him. But I'm not going anywhere just to fight him. Will you consider your time in the UFC unsuccessful or even a failure if you don't win the undisputed championship?

Nogueira: I'm not even thinking about that. I'm thinking about winning against Velasquez. I know I can do it. I'm very focused and I really believe. I have to believe. I had a good time in Pride. I had a good experience in WEF. I held the belt everywhere I went and I believe I can hold it one more time.

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