Paulo Costa re-enters the cage for his first fight since coming up short against Israel Adesanya in September 2020 to face Marvin Vettori at Saturday night’s UFC Vegas 41, and UFC legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has high expectations for his return.
Speaking on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Portuguese-language podcast Trocação Franca,“Minotauro” broke down the matchup to explain why “Borrachinha” should come out on top at the UFC APEX.
“‘Borrachinha’ boxes better Vettori,” Nogueira said. “Vettori throws good strikes, he’s fast, has rhythm, good heart and good submissions, he fights well in all areas, but I don’t see him taking ‘Borrachinha’ down. ‘Borrachinha’ is more skilled than him in wrestling and hits harder with his hands. ‘Borrachinha’ moves his head when he punches, Vettori doesn’t do it that much, so ‘Borrachinha’ is meaner than him on the feet.”
Costa vs. Vettori was expected to be a middleweight showdown, but was changed to a catchweight since the Brazilian wasn’t able to hit 186 pounds on Friday morning. Nogueira, a UFC ambassador in Brazil, believes Costa’s skillset will make the difference over Vettori, who’s also coming off a defeat to Adesanya.
“I expect a win for ‘Borrachinha,’ for sure,” he said. “Not because I’m a Brazilian. We’re always rooting for the Brazilians so to say a Brazilian is going to lose. … They are all my kids [laughs]. But I have good expectations for this fight for the technical difference in their boxing. Vettori is a dangerous guy, has a ton of heart and cardio, has rhythm, but I think ‘Borrachinha’ is on another level in the striking and wrestling.”
Bellator is also putting on a show Saturday night featuring the return of heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko, a fighter that will be forever tied to Nogueira for their historic battles in PRIDE. “Minotauro,” who has a picture with “The Last Emperor” hanging on the wall of his UFC office in Sao Paulo, is excited to see him return against Tim Johnson in Russia.
“He’s a great world idol and, to me, was the best heavyweight of all times, undefeated for years, someone very strategic and fast,” Nogueira said. “We know there’s the age, he’s 45, and there’s an age where fighters perform their best, but I’m always rooting for him.”
Emelianenko went 3-2 under the Bellator banner between 2017 and 2019, knocking out Frank Mir, Chael Sonnen and Quinton Jackson, and “Minotauro” has recalls the night he beat “The American Gangster” at Bellator 208.
“I was watching that fight the other day,” Nogueira said, “and I’ve never rooted so much for someone like in this fight [laughs]. I’ve rooted more for Anderson Silva, of course, but I was rooting as hard. I root a lot for him. He was an opponent for me, but he’s an idol to the world. Everyone that watched Fedor in PRIDE has that feeling for the great champion. Much respect.”
Does Nogueira get an itch to return to competition watching a fellow legend enter a cage in 2021?
“[That door] is closed,” he said. “I’ve always was an athlete that… [I won] my first belt in 2000, and then won it again in 2003. I was the grand prix finalist in 2004, so I was always among the three best in PRIDE. It was myself, Fedor and Mirko (Cro Cop), we were at such high level. I went to the UFC and won the UFC title. I dropped to 5th in the ranking in 2010, and then 7th, 8th. I’m a perfectionist. You have to perform at your best.”
The former UFC and PRIDE king underwent a serious hip surgery in 2011, and agreed to come back ahead of scheduled to be part of UFC’s first-ever show in Rio de Janeiro, facing rising heavyweight Brendan Schaub. That, and also the eye injury that has affected him for the most part of his MMA career, were big hurdles to overcome.
Nogueira jokes it was more painful to get on the press conference stage months before the event than the fight itself. On Aug. 27, 2011, “Minotauro” scored a shocking first-round knockout over Schaub. Yet, the legendary fighter doesn’t regret not retiring on such high note in front of his countryman.
“I still had one more fight in which I broke my arm but fought well against Frank Mir, I was fast,” said Nogueira, who went 1-4 since his win over Schaub. “I came back and won a fight, but I was feeling my hips and couldn’t give my best in my last three fights. I still had wood to burn, I was fighting good guys, but my best [in the UFC] really was between 2011 and 2013. My last three fights weren’t good, really.”