When you get offered a fight by the UFC, you have a choice: either embrace it, get ready for it and win it, or sulk and question whether you are even a fighter in the first place.
I was offered a fight against Antonio (Minotauro) Nogueira on Dec. 10 at UFC 140 and, although I already held a win over the man, I jumped at the chance. It was another big fight in my career, against a legend, and one that will move me a step closer to another UFC heavyweight title shot. What is there not to like about that?
Naturally, some people look at this weekend’s fight and think to themselves, ‘Damn, Frank already holds a win over that guy — isn’t he going over old ground,’ and, in a sense, I guess they are right. I beat Nogueira inside two rounds back in December 2008 and, three years on, it does kind of feel as if I’m going through it all again, especially as I personally believe this rematch will bear an uncanny resemblance to the first fight.
I am a fighter, though, and fighters can’t afford to ever think like that. I knew this was a fight I had to take seriously, despite the fact I had already beaten the man. Nogueira is someone I have a victory over, but, right now, that only means he is hungry for revenge and will be much better in this rematch than he was in the first fight.
Rematches typically don’t go the same way as the original, and that is often the reason for the rematch in the first place. Fans or matchmakers believe that the rematch will go a different way — perhaps because the first fight was close or controversial — and that is why rematches end up happening.
Of course, anybody that saw my first fight with Nogueira will be able to back me up when I say it wasn’t exactly close or controversial. I beat up and stopped Nogueira in the second round of our fight and, to be honest, at the time I didn’t think I’d ever have to fight the guy again. It didn’t seem like something we’d ever be able to sell for a second time, simply because the first fight was so conclusive.
You have to guard against complacency when going into a situation like this. Once you have a win over somebody — especially one so emphatic — you have to stop yourself from falling into a comfort zone and thinking you can take your foot off the gas in training. Yes, I could just go to the gym every day and assume that because I’ve already beaten Nogueira, it will all work out for me on the night, but mixed martial arts doesn’t follow any patterns or trends.
If I don’t match or even better my performance from the first time around, then Nogueira is talented enough and determined enough to make the series all square. I can’t afford to give him the chance to do that.
It’s never easy, though. Complacency knocks at your door each and every day. I have guys coming up to me on a regular basis, whether at the gym or on the street, telling me that, ‘Nogueira has got nothing for you; you’ve got this fight, no problem.’ Luckily, I am mature enough and know enough about this sport to turn a blind eye to those kinds of comments, but more impressionable fighters would struggle with it.
I can hear positive opinions and predictions all day and night, but the thing that motivates me each time I step through the doors to the gym is the fact that I know Nogueira, the man whose opinion means the most, will be thinking he can beat me on Saturday night. That’s all that matters. Sure, if Nogueira came up to me in the street one day and said, ‘Frank, lay off the training, you’ve got this one, no problem,’ then, yes, I might heed his advice and have a day off. So far, though, that hasn’t happened.