Retirement is a tricky subject (just ask Brett Favre). For 39-year-old Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, it's a topic he does not want to confront just yet.
The former PRIDE heavyweight champion takes on towering Dutch kickboxer Stefan Struve at UFC 190 tomorrow night (Sat., Aug. 1, 2015) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is in a must-win situation, or he might face further questioning regarding his career.
Nogueira, who fights on the same card as his younger brother Antonio Rogerio Noguiera (more on that card here), is on a two-fight losing streak -- both times he was finished -- and is just 1-3 in his last four fights overall.
Despite calls from UFC President Dana White to consider retirement after his technical knockout (TKO) loss to Roy Nelson nearly 16 months ago, the revered Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is inspired by the rejuvenated heavyweight division and has not allowed the thought to manifest prior to his match up with Struve.
"I'm not thinking about that right now," Nogueira told FOX Sports. "A lot of fighters who lost three, four fights before are coming back. A lot of guys from my same generation just came back and are doing better. So I'll try to keep it going on. I'm training good and I'm in shape. I still want to fight."
After years of stagnation and injuries, the top of the 265-pound division is as competitive as it has ever been. Former foe and PRIDE competitor Fabricio Werdum's rebirth is one of the major storylines in UFC, having went from castoff to heavyweight champion in close to seven years.
Former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski is now knocking dudes out after an extended hiatus from the Octagon. Combine that with mainstays Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, and Stipe Miocic, and there is lots to be excited about.
How "Big Nog" fits into the equation at this point in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career remains to be seen. He is 39 and has not been nimble for a while.
Injuries, including a broken arm, have hindered Nogueira in the latter stages of his career and he admits they played a role in his last loss against Roy Nelson.
"I had just returned to training," Nogueira told MMAjunkie. "I was inactive towards the end of 2014, recovering from a knee injury. I tore the ligaments in my right knee on the week I fought Nelson."
His next opponent, the 7'0" Struve, is a completely different fighter than "Big Country." Although both are capable of throwing bombs, the 27-year-old possesses a solid ground game and is even confident in pulling guard, which could make this bout more of a chess match. Do not tell that to Nogueira, however.
"(Struve) has many qualities, including his length and very good jiu-jitsu," Nogueira said. "My strategy is to close the distance using my boxing, or take him down. I know I can submit him or knock him out."
Rodrigo is not as good as a boxer as his younger brother Rogerio, and only has three career knockout victories to his credit, but Struve has a tendency to get tagged, so it is definitely possible to light the latter up. Neither fighter is fleet of foot so fight fans should also be prepared for a 15-minute technical battle, as well.
Provided he wins, and he would likely need to win in dominant fashion, Nogueira wants a third crack at the resurgent Frank Mir. This, despite previously being TKO'd and submitted (Mir broke his arm in a kimura lock at UFC 140) by the former heavyweight champ.
"I would like to face him, yes," said Nogueira. "This is fight that sells itself. Both Mir and I have a good name in the UFC. Who wouldn’t want to see a new clash between us? But I don’t have my heart set on that fight only. I want to still have great fights, regardless of who the opponent might be."
For more on his upcoming fight at UFC 190 click here.