LAS VEGAS -- Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
was ready for his breakout performance in the US. He was ready for the big audience and the big hype that fighting Forrest Griffin
would bring, until it all went away. Griffin got hurt, withdrew from the fight, and Nogueira waited to hear who the UFC could round up.
When he got the call about his UFC 114
replacement, Nogueira and the rest of his team had little idea of just exactly who exactly Jason Brilz
"None of us did," said Nogueira's manager and interpreter Ed Soares
told MMA Fighting. "When they gave us his name, I looked him up on Sherdog, and I saw that he had an 18-2 record. He fought on a card that I had two guys fighting on and I really didn't remember his fight, so we looked up his fights and got copies of them from the UFC. We gave them to Rogerio and he and his coaching staff and trainers put a good gameplan together to fight him. Jason is a tough guy, but he's taking a step up in competition fighting a top 10 light heavyweight like Rogerio."
While Brilz was not exactly plucked from obscurity (he's had four fights in the UFC, winning three of them), he has yet to break through to the elite level. Because of that along with the stylistic difference from his original opponent Griffin, Nogueira had many adjustments to make before fight night on Saturday.
"It was a little bit of a curveball," said Nogueira, who is 18-3 and riding a six-fight win streak. "We were expecting someone like Forrest who likes to stand up and strike, and now they gave us somebody who is more of a wrestler. But fighting a guy like Forrest who is a very complete fighter, I was training everything. So I just had to change my focus a little bit, but I feel great for this fight."
Nogueira's spirits have been lifted by the esteemed company he's keeping in Las Vegas. For the first time in a long time, the superstars that comprise Blackhouse MMA are together. Accompanying Nogueira for the trip are UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva, WEC featherweight champ Jose Aldo, Lyoto Machida, Junior Dos Santos, and of course, Rogerio's brother, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
It is a veritable Murderer's Row of MMA, and the Blackhouse stars took over the UFC open workouts Thursday in a show of force.
"It's a great feeling, it's a lot of support and they came to give me support," he said. "It's motivated me to put on my best performance. All these guys have a tremendous amount of experience and a tremendous amount of knowledge so any time you have that in your corner it's a benefit."
Beside the moral support, Nogueira gained some more practical help in preparing for Brilz by brushing up on his wrestling with Blackhouse allies Mark Munoz and "King" Muhammad Lawal, who was a big presence during the day (Lawal has also spent a good amount of time recently helping Rashad Evans prepare to fight Quinton "Rampage" Jackson).
Brilz, who wrestled at the collegiate level, is likely to want to take the fight to the ground. Though Nogueira has a black belt in jiu-jitsu, he also has excellent hands, as evidenced by his 1-minute, 56-second destruction of Luiz Cane
in his UFC debut last November.
Still Nogueira's ready for whatever comes his way and isn't putting any undue stress on himself to win in spectacular fashion.
The veteran is wise enough to sense danger before he sees it.
"I'm a very experienced fighter, I don't let pressure get to me," he said. "I haven't seen anybody knock him out or sjbmit him. So he's not an easy guy to finish. He's got an 18-2 record, so he's no slouch obviously since he's fighting in the UFC. I've been in this game a long time and I don't let that pressure get to me. If a knockout or a sub is available it'll come. But a fight is a fight. Of course I'm going to do my best to finish but wherever the fight goes, that's where I'll be."