Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will likely finish his storied mixed martial arts (MMA) career inside the Octagon.
But long before "Minotauro" became a fixture in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), securing the promotion's Interim heavyweight title with a win over former division kingpin Tim Sylvia at UFC 81, he was First Mate in PRIDE Fighting Championship.
Fedor Emelianenko, naturally, was captain of the ship.
But in spite of two dominant unanimous decision losses to the "Last Emperor," first at "Body Blow" and then again at "Shockwave 2004," Nogueira was steadfast in his pursuit of a third go-round, joining 14 other fighters on the fast track to a 265-pound title shot.
The PRIDE FC 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix.
Nogueira was paired off against the laughably overmatched Wagner da Conceicao Martins in the opening round. "Zuluzinho" was a 400-pound behemoth who looked like a throwback to the old days of UFC, when mean-mugging monsters like Emmanuel Yarborough tried to prove that size does indeed matter.
Not to Nogueira.
It took just over two minutes for "Minotauro" to lock up a fight-ending armbar and propel himself into the semifinals, where on the opposite side of the bracket, a talented young grappler named Fabricio Werdum was sitting pretty thanks to a stunning first round submission over Dutch "Demolition Man," Alistair Overeem.
It was old guard versus new.
"Vai Cavalo" was 8-1-1 in his budding MMA career with his only loss coming against Sergei Kharitonov by way of narrow split decision. In addition, the Brazilian was a three-time medalist in Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC), the world's most prestigious submission grappling tournament.
To his credit, Nogueira came into their fight with a staggering 19 wins by way of tap, nap or snap.
They spent three rounds banging it out on the main card of PRIDE FC: "Critical Countdown Absolute," which took place at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, on July 1, 2006. Nogueira would win a clear-cut unanimous decision victory after putting Werdum on his ass during the fight.
"Big Nog" was in his prime.
It would be "Vai Cavalo's" final appearance under the PRIDE FC banner, making a pit stop at the Ahoy Sport Palace in Rotterdam, Holland, to choke out Aleksander Emelianenko before hooking up with the gang in "Sin City" to see what UFC had to offer.
Nogueira, however, still had work to do.
He would fall short of rematching Mirko Filipovic for the grand prix title after losing a razor-thin split decision to fellow grappling wizard Josh Barnett in one of the best heavyweight fights on record, taking place at PRIDE FC: "Final Conflict Absolute" in September of 2006.
He would avenge that loss a few months later before joining his PRIDE brethren in UFC.
After 10 fights and nearly seven years inside the cage, his path will once again cross with Werdum, first as a coach on the sophomore season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil," then as headliners of UFC on FUEL TV 10 from Paulo Sarasate Gymnasium in Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil, on June 8, 2013.
Will history repeat itself ... or has the student become the master?
Time will tell.