by Mauro Ellovitch
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is best known around the world by his nickname “Minotauro”, the Portuguese for “minotaur”, a half-human, half-bull that inhabited the labyrinth of the King Minos of Ancient Greek mythology. However, considering his performances and life story, Rodrigo is more like another Greek legend: the Phoenix, a bird reborn of its own ashes.
The mythological characteristic of rebirth first arose in his childhood, when at 11 years of age Minotauro was run over by a truck, causing him to endure four days teetering between life and death. How many humans have survived an accident like that and still recovered to the point of becoming professional fighters? In ancient lore, such feats are reserved for demigods like Persus or Hercules.
After setting about improving himself in boxing and Jiu-Jitsu, Minotauro soon began winning championships and, like the great legends, embarked on a fantastic journey replete with extraordinary encounters with the most fabulous of adversaries. It was his odyssey in MMA.
Rodrigo became champion in all the most prestigious tournaments the sport has to offer: Rings, Pride and the UFC. In his epic, he had to be reborn in the most disproportional of match-ups and in situations that would mean the end of most athletes’ careers. At Pride Final Conflict, in 2003, Minotauro survived a deadly left kick to the head by Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. Up until that point, all Cro Cop’s opponents who had suffered the blow had been floored, unconscious. Minotauro fell but absorbed the strike, was rose from his ashes in the round that followed and tapped Mirko out with an armbar.
In his most famous fight, Minotauro faced the ogre Bob Sapp, who weighed around 170 kilos (374 lbs) of pure muscle. Sapp tossed the Brazilian around as though he were an insect and pounded on his head with strikes that could split boulders. The earth itself shook with every punch Rodrigo weathered. Minotauro was beaten savagely for 14 minutes, and the poor mortals believed he would never recover. That was when the warrior-phoenix rose again, using his Jiu-Jitsu to turn the tables and tap out the gigantic American, driving the Japanese crowd and his team to tears of joy.
With age, Minotauro went on to face not just other warriors, but incapacitating injuries as well. He lost part of his vision in one eye, had to undergo surgery to his knee and hip (an injury similar to the one that ended tennis player Gustavo Kuerten’s career). Each injury was followed by a period of inactivity and rumors that his career had come to an end. And always the phoenix would again rise and dazzle everyone. The rebirth against Brendan Schaub, at the first UFC Rio, following 18 months of inactivity, was further proof that Rodrigo is not human.
The latest chapter in the saga of Minotauro occurred last Saturday at UFC Rio 3. Ten months after having his arm snapped by his nemesis Frank Mir (after all, every hero has to have his mortal enemy) and have 16 pins put in to fix the damage, Rodrigo again regenerated, tapping out Dave Herman. The opponent had said “Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t work on him”, and Minotauro made a point of proving him wrong.
Whether he’s a minotaur or a phoenix, it doesn’t matter. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has built his own legend and become a genuine Brazilian myth: the indestructible fighter with slick Jiu-Jitsu skills who never, ever gives up.