Never one to shy away from a tough fight, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira wants to feast on only the cream of the crop after his emotional first round knockout win over Brendan Schaub at UFC 134: "Rio" this past weekend (Aug. 27, 2011) at the HSBC Arena in Brazil.
"Big Nog," 35, was staring potential retirement in the face heading into Rio de Janeiro. Not only was the aging former Pride FC and UFC champion returning from an 18-month, injury-laden layoff, but he had been finished twice in his previous three fights.
Injuries, not Father Time, were the real reasons behind his recent struggles, he says. In fact, he recently revealed to MMAFighting.com that he is still only about 80 percent healthy, but "100 percent better than he was the last three years."
And by the time 2012 rolls around, which is right around the same time the promotion possibly plans to return to Japan, where Nogueira ran wild in the early part of the decade under the Pride FC banner, the Brazilian feels he'll be ready to beat the best:
"I'd love to fight on that card in February. Japan to me means a lot. That was [where I began my career]. I'd love to fight again for the Japanese fans. It would be exciting to fight over there in the Saitama Arena, Tokyo Dome -- those were the big shows with 50,000 people…. I'd like to fight Frank Mir. I lost our first fight. He's a tough opponent and a good guy. I'd like to fight him. I'd like to fight Brock Lesnar, too. Two big guys that would be a big step in my career."
Two big guys who also don't have any opponents lined up at this exact moment.
However, Mir has recently expressed a desire to introduce former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem to the Octagon. Whether or not that fight ever comes to fruition, considering "Demolition Man" isn't even under contract with Zuffa, remains to be seen.
Regardless, a rematch between Nogueira and Mir would sell well ... especially after Nogueira's most recent dramatic performance. The pair first met at UFC 92 in late 2008 with Mir coming out on top, and in the process, becoming the first man to chip the granite chin of the mixed martial arts (MMA) legend.
Lesnar, meanwhile, is still on the mend from surgery to repair a life-threatening diverticulitis condition. He has expressed his desire to return early in the New Year, but his status is not completely certain.
Either way, Nogueira is motivated to demonstrate that he's still "got a lot to show, still good in the gym," and that "it's not time yet" to call it quits.
Go big or go home.