(Photo courtesy of MySpace.com/MinotauroBJJ)
This Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Spike TV, Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira begins his duel with Frank Mir on the season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter 8. The two heavyweight jiu-jitsu masters will each lead a team of eight UFC hopefuls (four lightweights and four light-heavyweights), while sizing each other up for their own fight in December; the winner will take on the winner of UFC 91′s Randy Couture/Brock Lesnar match sometime next year. Luiz De Souza chatted with Big Nog on Friday to get his thoughts on his TUF experience and the UFC’s upcoming “heavyweight tournament.”
CAGEPOTATO.COM: In some of the past seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, the coaches built up great rivalries. Was there ever any hostility between you and Frank Mir? Did he get on your nerves in any way?
ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA: No, there wasn’t much of that; we have a lot of respect for each other. If there were arguments they were between the fighters themselves. I went there to do my job. I went to teach the guys, with the goal of not getting involved in fights with the guys inside the house or from the show, but to train them instead. That was my idea. I did my part and Frank did his. At times I was pissed at some of them because some of the guys were picking fights inside the house, and they would lose their control. There was one who wouldn’t quit picking fights, but overall nothing too major.
What do you think of Frank, as a person and as a fighter?
He is a good fighter, very strong, and he has great jiu-jitsu skills. He is also a very cool and nice guy, but he is my opponent, so I am training to fight him.
What’s your strategy going to be when you fight him in December? Would you rather fight him on the ground or standing?
There isn’t really a strategy; my strategy is to finish him. We don’t really choose if the fight will be standing up or on the ground. Whatever happens I will be ready for it.
After he lost to Forrest Griffin, Quinton Jackson partially blamed his performance on the fact that, because of The Ultimate Fighter, he’d gone 10 months between fights. Are you concerned that your own long layoff will affect your performance?
Well, the last time Frank Mir fought was the last time I fought, so the truth is that we both have the same disadvantage. I really don’t like to go such a long time without fighting; never in my life have I gone without fighting for this long. This does make a difference, but this is my job and I will fight when the day comes.
Who did you bring in to be assistant coaches for Team Nogueira on the show? Do you think they helped give your guys an advantage over Team Mir?
Definitely. I took the physical trainer from Brazil’s national team and I also took Amaury Bitetti, who is a three-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. There’s Daniel Valverde, he was of great help to the fighters. There’s the Muay Thai trainer, Wald Bloise, who also helped them with jiu-jitsu. I also took Kenny Johnson, who is the coach for the United States wrestling team. We did an excellent job. These guys are my personal trainers; the guys from my team had the same training that I have.
Was there ever a language barrier between you and the guys on your team?
No, whatever I had to say I was able to say, especially because fighting has its own language. I speak English, and at times it’s a little complicated because of my accent, but I was able to communicate. We are all friends, we work as a team, and when people see the show they will be able to notice that we worked together like a team.
Do you consider Randy Couture to be the true heavyweight champion of the UFC?
I think the champion will be the one who wins between him and I.
Who do you think will win between Couture and Brock Lesnar?
For sure Couture has a much bigger chance of winning. He is more experienced, and he has a huge history in MMA. I would surely rather fight him [than Lesnar]. He is a stronger guy, he is more dangerous, and I want to fight the best.
Thanks so much for your time, Antonio. Are there any people or sponsors you want to thank before we sign off?
For sure, I would like to thank Pretorian, a Brazilian clothing brand who has partnered up with us in a social project to give sports equipment to children.