Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's impact on MMA will continue through his coaching

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

There may not be a more beloved fighter in mixed martial arts among other fighters than Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Particularly since Randy Couture retired, Nogueira has earned the mantle as the UFC's father figure among fighters.

Nogueira has long been one of the sport's elite fighters, but he's also quietly morphed into one of the sport's great coaches.

He'll meet Fabricio Werdum on Saturday in the main event of a UFC event in Fortaleza, Brazil, that will be broadcast live in the U.S. on Fuel.

And right after that, he'll get back to coaching, his true passion in life.

He works with a varied lot, from UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, the man widely considered the greatest MMA fighter who ever lived, to people off the street who are looking for a good way to stay in shape.

He just finished a stint as a coach on "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," the second time in TUF history he's coached. He remains one of the finest coaches on the American version of TUF. Team Nogueira claimed three of the four finalist spots on Season 8 of the American version of TUF, and his fighters won each division.

He was widely praised by those fighters for his caring, his savvy, his positivity and ability to teach.

Next month, he'll open the first of what he says will be 23 gyms in Brazil, each of which will have more than 400 members.

"Just about every weekend, we'll be opening a new gym somewhere in Brazil," Nogueira said.

Nogueira loves to coach, but said it comes naturally. His mother was a coach and he said he remembers at the age of 4 listening to her instruct her students and asking her questions.

He's a stickler for preparation, but his success lies in his understanding of what makes a person tick. Not everyone learns the same way, so Nogueira doesn't coach everyone the same way.

"I have a lot of experience in this sport and I've learned many things in the long time I have been doing this," he said. "But it doesn't mean a lot if the students can't learn what you're teaching them. I really spend a lot of time trying to motivate them. I pay attention and see how they learn and what I try to do is make them believe in themselves and their ability to do what we're working on."

He took judo when he was a boy, and never understood why he did the same moves over and over and over. Day after day, it was the same drill all the time.

It became monotonous, but it wasn't until later until he appreciated why.

"I was lucky, because this guy was a really good judo coach," Nogueira said. "That guy made me repeat [a drill] a thousand times. I was 5 years old, and he made me work so hard. If I complained, he would say, 'Do you to do this perfectly?' I would always say, 'Yes,' and he would say, 'The secret to perfection is repetition.' I never forgot that. That philosophy became a part of who I was as a fighter and it's what I try to do as a coach.

"I'm still fighting, and I want to be the first one on the mat and the last one off. You can always learn, always get better. The key to it is doing the right things the right way, and making it a habit."

He's continued to do that in his own fighting career, and hasn't given up on the dream of regaining the UFC heavyweight title. He held the interim heavyweight crown for 11 months, beating Tim Sylvia for it at UFC 81 before losing it to Frank Mir at UFC 92.

Beginning with the loss to Mir, he's alternated wins and losses over his last six fights, but still believes, despite all the mileage and all of the injuries, he can once again claim the belt.

He's already got a win over Werdum, but admits that Werdum is a vastly different, more confident fighter as they prepare to meet again seven years later.

But a win over Werdum, who is coming into the bout off back-to-back wins over Mike Russow and Roy Nelson, would be a boost for Nogueira.

"A win would put me in very good position," he said. "No one is holding onto the title, and I think that's because there are so many good guys out there. When you're fighting only the top guys, it's not easy to put together win after win after win. We have a great champion, Cain Velasquez, and Junior dos Santos is another great guy in the division.

"But I believe I can do it and I see myself holding the title again. One of the things I teach is that the difference between winning and losing sometimes is very small. Everybody is so tough, and so talented, that one little mistake makes a difference. I have the ability to [win the title], just like anyone of these other guys, if I can eliminate those mistakes."

Whether he regains it or not is, in the eyes of many of his peers, immaterial. He's MMA royalty already and his impact on the sport will last well beyond his fight career.

When he's retired and is a full-time coach, his star will shine even brighter.

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