Antonio Rodrigo 'Minotauro' Nogueira: I would do it all over again
The UFC hall of famer and three-time heavyweight world champion sits down with Elias Cepeda to look back on his life on reflect on what matters most to him.
LAS VEGAS -- As technically skilled as Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira was during his legendary career that saw him win three heavyweight world titles, he is still probably best known for his resilience and grit.
Long before he would become an MMA fighter as an adult, however, the Brazilian learned that he was as tough as they come.
"Always, always, since I was young," he tells FOX Sports.
"I used to ride horses and I remember one day I was working with a horse and we were having it jump, you know? There was a competition and so we were doing a test run and the horse fell on top of my body.
"I was a kid, like 7 years old. It took them a long time to take the horse off of my body after it had fallen. Afterwards, I went over and rode another horse.
"They said, 'Are you crazy, kid? You're going to die.' (laughs) They said, 'This kid is sick!' So, I knew I was strong."
Just a couple years later, in 1987, Nogueira was still a child and was involved in a much more traumatic accident. After a truck ran him over, he nearly died and spent a year in a hospital bed.
The fighter says that the horrible experience gave him a reference point for pain that he often used throughout his career. Every time Nogueira was down and nearly out in a fight or suffered fight injuries that required surgery and slowed him, he thought back to his childhood and remembered that he could and would endure.
"Every time something bad happens, I think, 'Nothing was that bad,'" he continues.
"'Nothing is as bad as that.' One year in the hospital will make you strong. It made me strong."
So, Nogueira made a career out of surviving what others could not, coming from behind and ripping victory from harrowing circumstances.
Nogueira's ability to come back from any hit he'd ever sustained made it difficult for him to realize that he should retire. After more than 16 years as a pro, and mounting serious injuries, "Minotauro" still wanted to fight on, despite UFC president Dana White imploring him to hang up his gloves.
"It was harder for me. I was seeing that my body was hurt," he explains.
"I had a hip surgery. My hip was very sore since 2011. After surgery Dana said, 'You should stop.' I was like, 'Naw, nobody is going to decide that for me. I'm going to decide for myself.'
"The doctor had told me I had two or three fights left and I did five. I felt in the last fight my leg was tired. My hip was weak. Sometimes I felt like I was going to fall by myself."
Finally, Nogueira realized that allowing his body and mind to rest wasn't the same as giving up. "But, you know, Dana was right," he admits.
"So, after my last fight I went straight to Dana and said, 'You were right. I'm tired.'"
Nogueira stopped having anything left to prove over a decade ago. Still, he fought on, for pride, for love and probably just because he didn't know how not to fight.
On Sunday, the finally-retired living legend was inducted into the UFC's Hall of Fame. The 40-year-old will deal with the toll of a fighter's life for as long as he draws breath, but he says he wouldn't do anything differently if he had the chance to do it all over, again.
"You know what, if I had to do it all again, I would do the same things as before," he says, with emphatic calm.
"I would meet the same people, make a lot of friends, bring a lot of happiness to my country. I get to travel all over the world, doing seminars. I have thousands of students in the Nogueira gyms. We have a lot of kids who study at the gyms, 4,000 kids."
Nogueira would also fight every single opponent that he did, over his 44 contests. He once counted them as rivals, but now the black belt considers them all friends.
"I just saw [fellow UFC Hall of Famer and former two-time heavyweight world champion) Mark Coleman, one of the biggest names, and he was talking to me about my fight with him. He told me how he was preparing for me, I told him how I trained for him," he recounts.
"It is good to remember that. I fought many guys and nobody had a grip like him. He has, what they call, Hammer Hands, so he gripped me hard and I said, 'Man, this kid has a grip!' (laughs).
"I have a lot of respect for [Mirko] 'CroCop' [Filipovic], who I fought in 2003. I have a lot of respect for Fedor Emelianenko, who beat me two times.
"I just saw [former two-time heavyweight champ] Cain Velasquez. I feel happy for him. The guy beat me up, you know, because he was better than me."
Well, at the least, I point out, Velasquez was younger than Nogueira when they met in 2010. Nogueira laughs and says he made the same observation to Coleman, who was considerably older when the two of them fought.
"That's what I told Mark," he says.
"He told his girlfriend, 'This guy killed me.' I said, 'I was 10 years younger!' I was on my way up, he was on his way down. Same with Cain. I was down and he was coming up. That's the sport.
"Every day you're going to fight someone better than you. You're not in your moment anymore."
Physical primes don't last for long, but Nogueira the man will always be "in his moment" as far as serious fight fans are concerned. Physical tools degrade, but a legacy of inspiring accomplishment like Nogueira's will never lose its luster.
The man himself just seems glad he's been able to collect some good stories, along the way. "There's a lot of fun memories," he concludes.
"And a lot of respect."