by Mick Hammond
Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira is one of the most dominating fighters in the history of MMA. The first ever Pride Heavyweight Champion has compiled an impressive 25-3-1 record since his MMA debut in 1999 and at still under 30 years old he continues to grow as a fighter and refuses to rest on his already immense talent.

After spending the last six months away from the sport Minotauro returned to action as he defeated a clearly overwhelmed former Olympic Judo Gold Medalist in Pawel Nastula at Pride’s Critical Countdown 2005 show. MMA Weekly’s Mick Hammond managed to speak to Nogueira as he finished up a grueling training session with his Brazilian Top Team teammates to discuss the fight and his future.

MMA Weekly: First off Minotauro, congratulations on your victory at CC 2005. How did it feel to get back on the winning track?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Thank you, it felt very good. Last fight I had I lost so this time I wanted to show a lot of technique and fight hard. The guy I fought this time (Nastula) has a lot of skill in Judo and when we went to the ground he tried to do some things but I was able to stop him and use my technique to win.

MMA Weekly: Was there any ring rust after being off for so long?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I was very comfortable in the fight. I felt good and was not stressed at all. I had the six months off because last year I had five fights which I think is too much for me. I had much stress and an elbow injury so I took time off for treatment and have a vacation to heal my body.

MMA Weekly: Do you plan on taking more time off between now and your next fight or do you feel you’ll be getting back into the ring soon?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I plan to fight in October. We are talking with Pride and are in negotiations. If they have an opponent for me I’ll be fighting for sure. Until then I will be training every day and when I know I’m going to fight for sure I will train harder.

MMA Weekly: What kind of routine do you go through when you find out you are fighting?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Actually I train three times a day when I’m getting ready for a fight. I do my physical training, my cardio and then work on my strength. I work on my Jiu-Jitsu three times a week and wrestling three times a week. I also work a lot on my Muay Thai. I work my knees, my boxing, and some kicks, but mainly I focus on my knees.

MMA Weekly: Over the last year you’ve shown a great deal of improvement in your striking and I know you always push yourself to get better.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Last year I trained hard in everything but I went to Cuba to work on my boxing and that’s the best thing I could have done. It helped me a lot and I spent a lot of time in the middle of the ring just boxing everyone. I’ve tried to stand up more with my opponents and it depends on who I am fighting to see how much I will stand with them. I’m pretty confident now in my boxing.

MMA Weekly: Other than striking are there any other areas you want to work on?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I had very tough fights with Fedor (Emelianenko) so this year I want to work on becoming even stronger (physically). My opponents like Fedor and (Mirko) Cro Cop are getting bigger so I have to get stronger to match their size.

MMA Weekly: You mention Fedor and Cro Cop and finally it seems they are going to have their match in August. What do you think about that fight?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: They’ve had it postponed for almost two years now so I’m glad to see it finally happen. I think it will be decided by whom is the strongest. Fedor is a more complete fighter, he’s very good with Greco (Roman wrestling), striking and has some submissions on the ground. Cro Cop is strong with kicks and boxing but on the ground nobody knows how good he is now.

MMA Weekly: Is there either one of them you would rather fight over the other?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: I think I would like to fight Fedor if he wins. To have a chance to win (against Fedor) I have to improve more. I have the technique but I must get stronger. I feel I can beat him if I get another chance to fight him.

MMA Weekly: What if Cro Cop wins?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: If I fought him again that would be good too. I beat him once and if I faced him again I would train like I did last time and push myself harder. I think I can beat him again if I fought him. I’m just waiting to fight for the belt again. I cannot pick the opponent I face, so I work hard to beat whomever Pride has me fight.

MMA Weekly: Is there a time frame you have in mind to get a title match?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: As soon as possible would be good, but I think after one or two more fights I will ask Pride to give me a title fight.

MMA Weekly: How important is it to you to be Pride Heavyweight Champion again?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: It’s very important in my life. When I had the title I enjoyed it so much and it changed my life. I had to work hard to get there and after I lost I know I must harder to improve my technique. When I lost in 2003 I wasn’t healthy and couldn’t train as well. When I fought Fedor he was in good shape and his strategy was better than mine and he deserved to win. I am going to work harder to get the title belt because it is very important to me.

MMA Weekly: Aside from fighting you recently got into the promotion side of the sport. Tell us about that.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: We are going to do a second show this year, we did three shows already but the last one had my name on it, Minotauro Fights. I believe our next show is going to be in the beginning of August. I enjoy it, but I do not do it for the money. I want to help the young fighters the beginners get an opportunity to fight and show their skills. In Brazil there are very few shows unlike America where there are so many shows that young fighters can easily have 20-30 fights there. Here in Brazil we don’t have that so I wanted to help our fighters get experience. I even train some of the guys and help them get ready for future fights.

MMA Weekly: Talking to fighters here in the US that promote shows, it seems very stressful to both fight and run an organization. Do you ever get stressed out doing that?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Not really, I have a guy here that handles a lot of business things so I just have to make the matches. I have a lot of knowledge because I go to shows in Japan and see what they do and I bring them back with me and tell him how they do things, how they organize the shows, so he takes over from there. I enjoy it a lot, being a fighter I know many fighters here so it is easy for me to bring them into the show.

MMA Weekly: Earlier in there year there was rumors of you coming to fight in the USA, but according to Mario Sperry there were no direct talks to you about it. I know a lot of people would really like to see you fight here, is that a desire of yours?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Pride was wanting to have a show there a year ago but they didn’t. I was hoping to fight on it. You know my first two fights were in America (for the WEF Promotion) and I used to live in Florida, so I’m very comfortable in America. My mother and sister still live in Florida and I come up to train there sometimes. I think we should have a show in America because I would like to bring my Jiu-Jitsu to America. I know a lot of people train in Jiu-Jitsu and it’s getting very popular there.

MMA Weekly: Thank you for your time Minotauro, is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: You’re welcome for the interview. I want to say if Pride goes to America some day I’d like to fight there for my American fans. I’ve been watching a lot of Pride shows and see American fighters are much improving in Jiu-Jitsu. Like Yves Edwards, he won in Bushido with a beautiful technique. Guys like Jeremy Horn have beautiful Jiu-Jitsu and it shows how much Jiu-Jitsu is growing in America and I’m very happy to see it.