Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira IN THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS
A little over ten years ago Mixed Martial Arts was largely dismissed as a barbaric freak show by every country except
Japan. While the UFC was on the verge of extinction the PRIDE Fighting Championship promotion in Japan was not
only attracting the biggest named fighters of the day but broadcast on local mainstream TV and regularly held events
attended by 40,000-50,000 fans. JOE caught up with one of the biggest names to emerge from this early era of MMA,
Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira.
Because MMA is such a young sport, the title of legend can sometimes be given away cheaply. In the case of
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt “Minotauro” Nogueira having won the RINGS, Pride and UFC titles across his 40 fight
career nobody could dispute his legendary status. Amongst his 32 career wins to date include names like former UFC
heavyweight champions Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, Tim Sylvia and Hall of Famers Mark Coleman and Randy
Couture. Nogueira was in Ireland recently to conduct a whistle-stop series of MMA seminars around the country.
Why would one of MMA’s biggest stars come to Ireland? Simple. Because he was asked!
The man doing the asking was Michael O’Hagan, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt who trains with BJJ Revolution in
Baldoyle, Dublin and teaches in the Extreme MMA gym in Swords. “I met Mickey maybe 5 years ago in Spain at a
seminar and he’s come out to train with us in San Diego a few times since then. He asked me to come to Ireland so I
said sure!” explains Nogueira in the very recognisable thick Brazilian-Portuguese accent. Between O’Hagan and Andy
Ryan, Ireland’s 2nd BJJ black belt and head coach at BJJ Revolution/Team Ryano, a series of seminars in Cork, Dublin
and Belfast were put together that proved incredibly popular. Even more incredible is that this is not Nogueira’s first
time in Ireland.
“I was in Ireland maybe 10 years ago and we did a really big seminar with over 100 guys. But a lot of them were
martial artists like judo guys or BJJ guys and they really wanted to learn more BJJ. This time is different, lots of young
guys this time, like 15, 16 year olds, hungry to learn MMA. I’m really impressed with the MMA guys. They’ve real
passion for training MMA, they push, push, push! You can teach positions and skills but you can’t teach that passion
to someone. You’ve got to have it in you already. We also got some fans this time, guys that don’t fight but like to
train in the sport, which is great.”
Nogueira was accompanied by Raphael “Feijao” Cavalcante, the former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion only
recently dethroned by Dan Henderson. “I met Feijao about 5 years ago when I was buying a farm back home in Brazil.
He was showing me around the farm. He came to train with us and I told him ‘man, you’d be a great fighter’. So he
quit everything and started to train full time with us at Black House and became a world champion in Strikeforce”
Both men were exhausted after the Dublin seminar and when they talked through their movements for the previous
24 hours it was clear they were toiling for the love of their sport.
“I’m not tired man, I’m dead!” joked Nogueira. “I left the US on Wednesday night. Then we have problems with
immigration in Madrid and miss our flight so have to spend a day in the airport. We got to Dublin and then jumped in
the car with Mickey and drove to Cork. We didn’t get to bed till 4.00am Saturday morning. Then up early for the
seminar, back in the car to drive to Dublin then another seminar.”
Its hard to imagine Tiger Woods or Wayne Rooney giving as much of their time to develop their sport in a small
country that would offer no immediate payback. But both Nogueira and Feijao, despite being exhausted, remained
on the mats hours after the Dublin seminar had finished to pose for pictures, sign autographs and roll with anyone
willing to test the skills against elite level BJJ black belts.
Zuffa’s recent purchase of Strikeforce sees opportunities for both men. For Nogueira, there is the possibility of a
fourth fight with Fedor Emelianenko and testing his mettle against a quality crop of Strikeforce heavyweights. “Sure
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira IN THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS
I’d fight if they wanted me to but I think Fedor is dropping down to light-heavyweight or a catch-weight to fight Dan
Henderson, that’s what I hear.”
For Feijao there’s the potential to join the shark tank that is the UFC’s light-heavyweight division. Though he doesn’t
think it’ll happen any time soon. “I think it could be maybe 2 years before they join the 2 light-heavyweight divisions,
I hope it happens sooner. I’m looking forward to it whenever it happens” commented Feijao through the ever
Next up for Nogueira is Brendan “The Hybrid” Schaub at UFC 134 in Rio in August. This event has huge significance
for Brazilian MMA as the promotion was founded by the Gracie family who also created Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. “As soon
as I heard there is a UFC in Brazil I told Dana ‘I’m fighting on that card!’ The arena is only a few blocks from where I
Having had hip surgery in November last year, Nogueira has only recently resumed training of any sort. It will be his
first fight in 19 months the longest lay-off in his career since it began in 1999. “I’ll be in a hurry to get ready because
of the surgery but I’ll be ready.”
The best advice Nogueira offered for fighters looking to get to the next level was to jump into the melting pot of
global MMA. “Its important that a coach is not too proud to get other people to come and train his guys in his gym,
like Andy does. He brings in guys like Rodrigo Medeiros and Arthur Ruff, which is important. Since Feijao has trained
with us he’s been teaching me some things he’s picked up. And for fighters, they should go travel and train at other
gyms. Come to Brazil or San Diego to my gyms. It’s a great way to learn new positions, to see what other fighters
outside their team are doing.”
When the discussion turns to how much MMA has grown since he began over a decade ago in Japan, Nogueira
believes there is still more to come. “MMA is going to be as popular, maybe even more popular than football in
Brazil. Every weekend on the TV talk shows on Friday and Saturday nights there’s always an MMA fighter being
interviewed, they are really big stars now in Brazil. For example, UFC 126 Belfort v Silva was watched by more people
in Brazil than a football cup final on the same night” said Nogueira taking the role of MMA ambassador. He’s
certainly played his part in popularising the sport not just in Brazil but across the world, including Ireland.
Pictures were supplied by MMA Kaptured. Contact MMA Kaptured directly (Steve 086 387 4474) to purchase any
MMA event pictures or hire them for an upcoming event.
Fergus Ryan, June 2011