Nogueira hungry for Couture match

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

LAS VEGAS – For a fighter who has been through as many wars and taken as much punishment as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, it’s somewhat surprising he feels his toughest test is still ahead of him.

"(Randy Couture) is the biggest challenge of my life," Nogueira said. "He’s a very good fighter and a legend in this sport, but I’ll be ready to fight. He’s a legend, but to be a top name you have to beat a legend.

"I’m very excited for this fight."

Couture (16-9) and Nogueira (31-5-1) are set to meet in the main event of UFC 102 on Aug. 29 in Portland, Oregon.

Both men are coming off TKO losses to the fighters who comprise the UFC 100 heavyweight title match. Couture lost his belt Brock Lesnar at UFC 91, while Nogueira was stopped for the first time in his career when Frank Mir recorded a TKO at UFC 92.

The former PRIDE heavyweight champion said he expects to finish off Couture, one of the UFC's biggest stars in his heyday but looking past his prime lately, early in their bout.

"I think that fight is going to go a short distance," Nogueira said. "He’s a wrestler and I’m a jiu jitsu guy. At the beginning of the fight I think he’s going to try and out-box me. I think it will go a short distance and if it goes to the ground, I will try to submit him."

Following his loss to Mir, Nogueira decided it was time to change up his training routine. He's dropped some weight in an effort to gain some quickness in the octagon.

"I’ve been training now to move faster and I’m more hungry than before," he said.

Though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, the winner of the Couture-Nogueira matchup will put himself in a good spot for a future shot at the heavyweight champion.

"For sure, I will try to get a title shot," Nogueira said. "I’ll be ready for anybody that they give me. If I get the chance, I will be ready to fight."

It wasn’t too long ago that the UFC heavyweight division was sorely lacking top competitors. Skip ahead a couple years and it’s full of established talent, as well as hot up-and-comers like Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez.

Nogueira said the division is better than it’s ever been.

"Yeah, it’s getting better now," he said. "Junior Dos Santos is another guy coming up; he’s fighting (Mirko) Cro Cop next. I think the UFC heavyweight division is a lot more competitive right now. I’m very excited to be among those guys. I know I have to work harder and harder every day."

The heavyweight division is also the focus of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, which features former YouTube brawler and EliteXC fighter Kevin (Kimbo Slice) Ferguson.

Nogueira said he respects Ferguson’s boxing, but that he has a lot more training to do to hang with UFC heavyweights.

"He’s an exciting fighter," Nogueira said. "He’s good with his hands. I’ve seen in his fights, he doesn’t have very good endurance. Late in his fights he has problems with his endurance and ground game. He has good hands and his defense is very good.

"I’d like to see how he does in the (UFC)."


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