In April of 2009 he raised some eyebrows in his Strikeforce debut with a TKO win over the unheralded Abongo Humphrey. By the end of the following spring, he'd taken on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, former Pride champion Fedor Emelianenko, and current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem.
That's not a step up into a different class of competition – it's a one-way rocketship to a whole different galaxy of competition. Rogers, who went 1-2 in that eleven-month stretch, learned a few hard lessons in a hurry that way. The good news is that as he prepares to face Josh Barnett (29-5) in the Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix on Saturday night, he has the benefit of that hard-won wisdom to help him along. So he hopes, anyway.
"For one thing, I learned I need to calm my a-- down and not listen to everybody else," Rogers told MMA Fighting this week. "When I say everybody, I mean media, fans, manager. I was listening to everyone else. I know now, especially after this last title fight, ultimately it's me in the cage."
The last time Rogers was in the Strikeforce cage he got demolished in three and a half minutes by Overeem in a title fight he was never really competitive in. He rebounded in the small circuit with a decision win over journeyman Ruben Villareal, but he didn't train as hard as he should have for that fight, he admitted, and he "felt like crap" as a result.
The present-day Rogers is older, wiser, and not as brash as the one who called out Kimbo Slice at an EliteXC press conference. At the same time, he's still a "300-pound Spiderman" with a little swagger when he needs it, Rogers insisted.
"I can't always be 'hater Rogers.' I get a couple people saying, 'Why don't you bring back hater Rogers?' Hater Rogers ain't gone nowhere. It's still in there, please believe me. It's just, I need to take my time, analyze my opponents, and not just hear a name and say 'let's go.'"
But there are no easy fights in the Strikeforce tournament – especially not for someone as relatively inexperienced as Rogers. Barnett is a fourteen-year veteran of the sport with nearly three times as many fights to his credit. According to oddsmakers, he's also a heavy favorite, and even Rogers can understand their logic in that regard.
"In this fight? I'm not going to hate: yeah, I should be the underdog," Rogers said. "Josh, he's been in the game for such a long time. I mean, he's been all over the world, fought tough dudes, so I give him that."
But if there's one thing Rogers never lost confidence in, it's his own pure punching power. Against Barnett, he seems to be hoping that it might be his saving grace.
"If he decides to stand up with me, it's definitely going to be lights out for him," said Rogers. "Because he's getting older, and I ain't talking about his age, because I'm getting older too. ... I put him in that old dog category. Like you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I'm saying it like that. He has to come out and do it just as well as I do. We're just going to see how it is this weekend."