When UFC matchmaker Joe Silva first contacted Jason Brilz
about filling in at UFC 114
on four weeks' notice, Brilz assumed they were talking about a fight on the preliminary card. Maybe fellow light heavyweight Luis Cane
had gotten injured and had to pull out of his bout with Cyrille Diabate
. Maybe it was the other way around.
Regardless, he told Silva, he was up for the challenge.
"I was planning on running a triathlon this summer with my dad, so I'm in shape," said Brilz. "I've been working on some stuff in the gym. I thought, hey this gives me four weeks to concentrate on it. My girls are still in school right now, so yeah, I can do that."
A couple days went by and Brilz didn't hear from Silva. On Monday, he sent an e-mail asking if the UFC would still be requiring his services in Las Vegas on May 29. Silva responded that it may have been a false alarm. It was looking like the UFC wouldn't need him after all, but thanks for being willing to step up.
Brilz put it out of his mind and went to dinner with his family. He considered ordering a beer, but, no, he'd just finished a couple good workouts, so he decided he'd have some water instead. After dinner, he and his family walked around in downtown Omaha, the city where Brilz works full-time as a firefighter. It was a pleasant little evening.
"Then I got home, put the kids in the bath and thought, you know, I'm going to have that beer now. I cracked the beer, had about two sips, then a Virginia number pops up on my phone. It's Joe Silva. I was like, well, I guess I'm not going to be able to finish this beer."
Still thinking it was a preliminary card fight, Brilz agreed to step in before Silva told him who he'd be facing. Only after he asked whether it would be Cane or Diabate or someone else on the prelim portion did Silva tell him he'd be facing top 10 light heavyweight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
, who'd been left without an opponent after former UFC light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin
pulled out with an injury.
"I thought, okay," said Brilz. "I already said yes to the fight. I'm not going to back down now."
And yet, a lot of guys – even the professional tough guys that populate the UFC roster – might have at least wanted a minute or two to think about it. This is Nogueira we're talking about. The former Pride standout earned a Knockout of the Night bonus with a first-round demolition of Cane in his UFC debut, adding to a list of victims that includes names like Dan Henderson
and Alistair Overeem
Brilz has a very respectable 3-1 record in the Octagon, but he's yet to be featured on the main card of a UFC event. Going from prelim action against Eric Schafer
to a pay-per-view bout with Nogueira is undoubtedly a major leap.
Still, it sounded just about perfect to Brilz.
"At this point in my career, I don't really care who I fight. I just want to be tested. And Little Nog, you know, he'll definitely test me. What the heck. I'm thinking, co-main event in Vegas? Sign me up."
For better or worse, the UFC did just that. Now he has to get ready for the toughest fight of his career, and just a little over three weeks from now. Brilz insisted that he doesn't get nervous before fights and doesn't expect this one to be any different in that regard, but acknowledged that the sudden jump up in competition makes him feel a little like he "got a default into the final heat at the Olympics."
As for how he plans to approach Nogueira, Brilz said it would be tough to find a sparring partner to simulate his style on such short notice, but added that he expects a fast-paced bout and thinks "getting in [Nogueira's] face" will be key.
"Just like in my other fights, I'm going to come right at him. I'm going to worry about his game, but I'm not going to deviate from my game to accommodate him. I'm going to throw my game plan out there. If it works, great. If it doesn't, well, I haven't thought that far."