It was the most spectacular knockout of the night, a left hook that dropped the ultra-tough Luiz Cane and helped Antonio Rogerio Nogueira make a strong first impression with American fans. Hours afterward, his entourage was still celebrating like it was Mardi Gras, whooping it up when he was awarded the $70,000 knockout bonus by UFC President Dana White and exchanging hugs and smiles. After a victory, celebration is the norm. Fighters have prepared for months and are rightfully thrilled to come out of a physically and mentally draining training camp with a win in hand. But this was beyond what you would normally expect. Teammate Anderson Silva was happier than I’ve ever seen him. His older brother, former PRIDE and UFC Heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, was beaming. One older man in particular kept coming back for hug after hug. It was Rogerio’s father, also named Antonio (“This (a father and two sons with the same name) is not normal, even in Brazil,” Rogerio admitted with a smile). With his father looking on, Rogerio explained why he was so thrilled, after more than 20 professional scuffles, with his performance in this fight.
“It’s the first time he’s come to America. He’s very excited to be here and I gave a good fight for him,” Rogerio said. While Rogerio joked that his father came to see him instead of his brother because he is the youngest of the twins, it was actually just the first opportunity for him to make it to the States. “He’s very proud of me. He knows how hard I train. He sees me every day when I wake up and go to train. Everyday I get home six hours later. He knows how hard I train.”
Hardcore fans have known about Rodrigo’s younger brother for years. With wins over greats like Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Alistair Overeem, Rogerio has long been one of the division’s best. Like it or not, that doesn’t matter all the much-for many fans groomed on The Ultimate Fighter, if it didn’t happen in the UFC, it didn’t happen. Rogerio understands that. It’s what made this fight so important.
“This is a new phase for my career. In PRIDE I fought with the best guys in the division,” Rogerio said. “I’ve fought for other shows, but I think the UFC has the best guys in my division. I’m very excited to be here. I think it’s my time. I’m here with the best guys and I think we’re going to see my skills.”
Despite looking, well, exactly like his twin brother, Rogerio brings a different skillset into the cage. While his brother has relied mostly on a stellar submission game, Rogerio has focused much of his training on the sweet science. In 2006 he represented Brazil in the South American Games, then took a Bronze Medal in boxing at the 2007 Pan Am Games. The work has paid off, as Rogerio clearly outclassed Cane, a powerful and accurate puncher in his own right, in his Octagon debut.
“I’m very lucky that I found a coach that’s so great. He’s a coach for the (Brazilian) Olympic team named Luís Dórea. I’ve been training with him for six years, seven years,” Rogerio said. “I train with Olympic guys too. I think my boxing has improved very much. I have very good boxing skills too.”
For Rogerio, it was the first step in making his presence felt in the UFC. It was also an opportunity to step out of the large shadow cast by his brother, one of the best fighters the sport has ever seen. Like many twins, Rogerio has sought out his own identity, looking to be noticed for who he is, not who his brother is. That starts with the decision to compete at light heavyweight, 25 pounds lighter than his larger twin.
“I feel better when I’m skinny “I feel very fast. I like to fight in the light heavyweight division. For him, I think he fight better at heavyweight,” Rogerio said. He looked over to his brother, still celebrating with friends. “It’s great to have a brother like Rodrigo. For me he’s the best heavyweight in all of history. But I have my talent. I train a lot. My friends who train with me know that I have my skills.”
While his next fight is still months in the future, Rogerio will now turn his attention to his brother’s upcoming fight with heavyweight prospect Cain Velazquez. That fight has been moved to UFC 109 in February. The bout, originally scheduled for UFC 108 on Jan. 2, was re-scheduled when Nogueira was forced to pull out due to a severe staph infection. The match will serve as a number-one contender bout, with the winner likely to face the victor of the eventual Shane Carwin/Brock Lesnar bout.
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