Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has made it clear he would never challenge teammate Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight belt -- but if the belt ever changes hands, it is still the Brazilian’s goal this late in his career.
“No chance I fight Junior Dos Santos,” Nogueira said. “He’s my friend. I saw this guy train when he was just starting jiu-jitsu and MMA. He’s got the title.
“Any chance that he doesn’t have the title anymore, for sure I want to fight for the belt. That’s everyone in the heavyweight division’s goal.”
As unlikely as a title run may seem for a 36-year-old warhorse such as Nogueira, who has gone through two significant injury layoffs in the past two years, he’s in a surprisingly decent position to make one.
Nogueira will coach opposite Fabricio Werdum on the upcoming season of the Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. The show begins filming in January.
The two coaches will meet in the Octagon at the conclusion of the season in a rematch of a fight that took place in Pride in 2006. Nogueira won that bout via decision.
A win over Werdum (16-5-1) would likely catapult Nogueira (34-7-1) back into the heavyweight rankings. Werdum has won five of his last six fights and is currently ranked No. 5 in the world by ESPN.com.
“This fight is going to be very important for me,” Nogueira said. “Each fight is either one step forward or one step back. I want to beat the best guys in the heavyweight division.”
After posting a first-round knockout over Mike Russow in June, expectations were that Werdum was in line for a premier matchup that would elevate him to title contention.
Pairing Werdum with an opponent outside the top 10 rankings had some fans puzzled, but Werdum says he was excited to accept a coaching role on the second season of the Brazilian reality show and admitted he was surprised by the opportunity.
“When I was in Brazil, people were mentioning I might be a coach,” Werdum said. “I didn’t think I was as known in Brazil as [Nogueira], [Mauricio Rua] or Lyoto [Machida]. I didn’t believe it would happen.
“It’s a great honor for me to fight Nogueira after seven years. I think I’ve evolved a lot in my game. My biggest goal is to fight for the title. I have to win this fight in order to be in title contention.”