That knockout loss, coupled with one 14 months prior to that fight to Frank Mir at UFC 92, as well as a series of injuries that have forced him to undergo both hip and knee surgery, have led to Nogueira being fairly written off in the division. Despite the fact that he's only 34 years old, the many battles he's been through in his career have him seemingly aging much further as far as his fighting career is concerned.
However, his manager Ed Soares, in comments made to MMAWeekly.com this week, warns against writing "Minotauro" off, and expects to see the one-time Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion surprise everyone upon a return being targeted for late summer or early fall.
"His recovery, his therapy is getting really good," Soares said. "His physical therapy, he's doing really, really well. He's walking better than he's walked since I've known him. They fixed a lot of his injuries, and he's recovering very, very well."
"He's hungry. He wants to get back in there. A lot of people in the world, and a lot of people in the MMA world, think 'oh Nogueira has had it, his best days are behind him,' but I think people are going to be surprised when they see how well and how prepared when Rodrigo comes back."
Though there remains a slight possibility of Nogueira's return coming in his home country of Brazil at UFC 134 in late August, Soares hints that it could be a little bit later than that.
"The number one thing on his mind is getting back in that Octagon and showing the world who Rodrigo Nogueira is," Soares said. "We're hoping by the end of summer, early fall [for his return]."
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Penick's Analysis: Can Nogueira make a return to prominence in the division? It's hard to really make any real determinations on where he's at in his career. With two knockout losses in his last three fights, major knee and hip surgeries and an accumulation of damage perhaps unrivaled by any of his peers, it would be easy to say he's at the end of the line, with maybe just a few fights remaining before serious calls of retirement. At the same time, he's only 34 years old, and if the surgeries helped to get him back to as close to 100% as he's been in years, maybe, just maybe, he's got some of his old magic left in him and can find a way to make a run. He's already established his name and his legend in this sport, and it would be great to see him return to greatness, but it's certainly not the most likely thing we'll see.
[Antonio Nogueira art by Cory Gould (c) MMATorch.com]