CHICAGO – Brett Rogers hadn't even heard of mixed martial arts when Fedor Emelianenko was tearing through many of the greatest heavyweight fighters in the world a few years ago.
Six months ago, the world really hadn't heard of Rogers, who was as anonymous as a 9-0 fighter could be.
Suddenly, he's got camera crews trailing him wherever he goes, he's fighting in the main event on network television and he's facing a man many believe is the best mixed martial artist of all time.
Rogers won't admit to even a slight bit of nerves as his Strikeforce/M-1 Global bout with the legendary Russian rapidly approaches on Saturday at the Sears Centre. He did concede, however, that it's amazing how quickly he's gotten to where he's wanted to be.
"I'm taking things step by step, but this is an amazing path I'm going down," Rogers said.
Not more than a year ago, he was begging for a fight with Kimbo Slice. He was still changing tires at a Sam's Club in Minnesota and training part-time.
By June, he'd quit his job and dedicated himself full-time to training, but few gave him a chance to defeat Andrei Arlovski, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion whom he was set to meet on Showtime in St. Louis, Mo.
When he needed only 22 seconds to obliterate Arlovski, he won for the 10th time and for perhaps the first time in his career, earned a measure of respect.
"Brett Rogers is a hard puncher," said Emelianenko, who was cageside that night. "He's a very good puncher. You always have to respect someone who punches like he does. You can not overlook any fighter if you want to be successful, but especially you can't look past someone who can punch like that."
Rogers, 28, is somewhat irritated that he's still perceived to be a one-dimensional slugger. While experts debate whether Emelianenko, who is 30-1 and hasn't lost in nearly nine years, is better on the ground or on his feet, they suggest Rogers' best chance is to land a haymaker.
Rogers doesn't want to be perceived as a swing-for-the-fences type of fighter who has no other way to win.
On the other hand, he knows that a win is a win and a win over Emelianenko is a life-changer. If he lands that one big right hand on Saturday in front of millions of fans watching in the U.S. on CBS, he'll instantly become one of the most famous fighters in the game.
It will, he may find, be kind of like the guy who wins the lottery only to find he has hundreds of relatives he didn't know he had who all are in desperate need of a few bucks.
There's a lot to be said for privacy and anonymity, and for nearly all of his career, Rogers has been as anonymous as they come.
Knock out Emelianenko, though, and things will change dramatically. It's a change, though, he's gladly willing to accept.
"This is what I want to do," Rogers said. "I'm right where I want to be. This opportunity, you wonder if you'll ever get it, but now that it's here, I know I'm ready for it and I can handle it. Everybody and his brother has told me how good this guy is. I know that. I know he's a great fighter. I've never said he's not. But I also believe in myself and I believe I can do this."
Rogers has only twice gone past the first round and has never gone into the third round. He's knocked out nine of his 10 opponents, including three in 37 seconds or less, and has been able to keep his power as his competition level has increased.
Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said Rogers made himself difficult to ignore.
"The beauty of this sport is that if you keep knocking people out, you'll get your chance," Coker said. "I think Brett's deserving. The way he took out Arlovski was so impressive. I think he took Arlovski out quicker than Fedor did. After that fight, I said, 'This guy is the real deal.' When it came time to pick an opponent for Fedor, we talked about a lot of variations, but Brett made the most sense.
"He's an American guy and I just have this feeling he could be the Buster Douglas to (Emelianenko's) Mike Tyson. Fedor is an amazing fighter, but at some point, if Brett can hit him on the chin, you never know. That's why I like this fight. One punch can change the whole thing."
The media guide for Saturday's card lists a slew of Emelianenko's many accomplishments. No such lengthy list exists for Rogers, but he's undaunted.
On CBS' preview show, two of Emelianenko's trainers are watching tape of Rogers. One looks at his Mohawk and says in Russian, "Nice haircut." The other looks at his outfit and says, "Nice shorts."
Then they begin to laugh uncontrollably.
It seemed pretty clear they weren't at all threatened by what they saw from Rogers. He concurred, but he shrugged his shoulders.
"The way I see it, they were probably making jokes because my fights have all ended very quickly," Rogers said. "They were complimenting me on things besides my game, but that's OK. They'll have one more compliment to give me on Saturday."
He's hardly overcome by the moment and he's not quaking in his (very large) boots. Maybe he doesn't know what he got himself into. He wasn't following mixed martial arts when Emelianenko was destroying many of the world's great heavyweights.
"All this hype around Fedor, Brett isn't fazed by," Coker said. "He's just relaxed and ready to go out there and put on a great show."
- Fedor Emelianenko
- Brett Rogers
- Andrei Arlovski
- mixed martial arts