"I had a huge responsibility being Minotauro's twin brother, the Brazilian submission machine, but it was good because I pushed my limits to stay at a similar level that he was at."
People are accustomed to saying that when you have a 'godfather' for something you are working on in your life, things become particularly easy to be achieved. The godfather makes people open doors for you and the steps on the road you chose are not as rough as if you didn't have him watching your back.
So let's bring that idea to the fight game, where I believe the extreme opposite occurs.
Antonio Rogerio 'Minotouro' Nogueira, the twin brother of former PRIDE and UFC champion ‘Minotauro’ Nogueira, and who fights in the co-main event of UFC 119 against the unbeaten Ryan 'Darth' Bader, started his mixed martial arts career when his brother already had two belts won (Rings KOK and WEF) and a record of 12-1-1. All those fights were pure displays of amazing ground skills, and if Big Nog could introduce his lighter twin brother to the MMA promotions when Minotouro began to fight in August 2001, one point was a certainty - Rogerio wouldn't have a nice and easy path in his MMA career.
Being a twin brother, Lil' Nog had the responsibility of emulating his brother's ground game, proving he wasn't there just because of his successful sibling, while creating his own style and avoiding comparisons while getting victories by his own efforts. But the similarities were inevitable and Lil' Nog took such talk in stride.
"In sport we need to take the positive vibrations, or the negative will influence the outcome," he says. "I had a huge responsibility being Minotauro's twin brother, the Brazilian submission machine, but it was good because I pushed my limits to stay at a similar level that he was at. I didn't have the time to face guys with the same experience as I did in the beginning; I beat tough guys from the start, so I trained more to be in the same environment of Rodrigo. In my first eight fights I faced Vladimir Matyushenko, Guy Mezger, Kazushi Sakuraba and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka. Nowadays I'm in UFC fighting against the best in the world and searching for the top of the division."
Having a brother with 20 submission victories on his résumé forced everybody to start thinking that the lighter Nogueira should have the same attributes. And even though he opted for a weight division below his brother, Minotouro started submitting people, but he played down the idea of being a smaller version of his brother.
"I consider Rodrigo's Brazilian Jiu-jitsu the impeccable one, but once I tried to follow a little bit - I wanted to show I had my own skills too. I look to use more of my boxing and my stand up technique, and while we're twins, each of us has our own abilities, proving we are not mirrors.
"That was not a pre-conception of my game when I started MMA; the necessity of a good stand-up game was required due to my time in PRIDE, mainly in the Grand Prix. Guys like Alistair Overeem, Mezger and others were very skilled with their strikes and to top them I needed sharp hands."
These sharp hands put the Brazilian light heavyweight on the radar of his boxing coach, Luiz Dorea, to make higher jumps in boxing competitions. As PRIDE FC alternated between fights every month and periods without fights for months at a time, Lil' Nog could mesh his MMA career with his boxing one, and after victories in the Brazilian Championship, and South American and Stars tournaments, he joined the Brazilian National team of boxing and got the bronze medal in the 2007 Pan-Ams. Of course this success attracted him, principally because PRIDE was coming to an end, and the man could dedicate himself more to the boxing competitions. But his passion for MMA became a higher priority.
"I still had a long journey to be the same recognized guy I was in MMA," says the longtime top ten MMA light heavyweight. "The experience I had in MMA and all that surrounded the sport I didn't have in boxing, so it was an easy choice to remain competing in MMA until I reached the UFC."
And after the epic battles in PRIDE, Nogueira scored five wins in other promotions before getting the call to the UFC. And in his first fight against fellow Brazilian Luiz 'Banha' Cané, he showed off his strikes as he manhandled his foe in a mere 1:56.
For his second match in the organization, against Jason Brilz a late replacement for former UFC champion Forrest Griffin, everyone was expecting nothing less from Nogueira than a another highlight reel knockout. All except Brilz and Nogueira.
"I knew that fight wasn't going to be in my full control all the time," he says. "Everybody was saying it would be, but I knew it wasn't. He's not excellent in all aspects, but he's tough, and hard to be submitted. I landed a few good knees and he kept going forward and trying to take me down. But it was good to see that I have a few improvements to make."
This weekend against the dangerous Bader, a wrestler with knockout power, Nogueira will get to show those improvements off and make his case for a future shot at the UFC light heavyweight crown.
"Saying he's young and explosive is evident," he says. "He's coming up solidly, as he conquered The Ultimate Fighter and beat some qualified opponents. But I'm confident that my experience can be the difference. I have more fights and these fights were against better guys than he’s fought. My focus is the title, but there are a lot of good guys in this division, so passing over him in a hell of fight won't guarantee that. I think only if it happens in a great fashion, like a KO, I can figure out my title chances after this match. Anyway, Bader and me are at the top of the division, so expect a great one."