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UFC 102:

Behind enemy lines

Antonio Nogueira knew he wouldn’t find much support in Portland, so he brought some with him

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Sam Morris

A bloodied Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira looks for an opening on Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 February 2, 2008 at Mandalay Bay. Nogueira won by submission in the 3rd round by guillotine choke.

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Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (second from left) talks with UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva (far right) and trainers during a workout Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront in Portland, Ore. Nogueira takes on former UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture at UFC 102 Saturday night at the Rose Garden Arena.

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Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira talks with media members during a workout Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront in Portland, Ore. Nogueira takes on former UFC heavyweight champ Randy Couture at UFC 102 Saturday night at the Rose Garden Arena.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Antonio Nogueira isn’t worried about the thousands of Randy Couture fans he’ll face when he enters the Rose Garden on Saturday night.

He brought all the support he needs with him.

“I’ve got to use the crowd as my motivation,” Nogueira said. “He’s got his fans behind him, but I’ve got my team behind me. I’m sure those 10 guys will be on my side.”

The crowd at UFC 102 figures to be very pro-Couture considering he lived in the city for 14 years while working as an assistant wrestling coach at Oregon State in the 1990s.

Nogueira, however, didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable in his opponent’s backyard Wednesday when he worked out at the Downtown Marriott.

The former PRIDE combatant was in pretty good company, conversing with Wanderlei Silva in the morning before using middleweight champ Anderson Silva as a wrestling partner during his media session.

“Yeah, for sure not,” answered Nogueira, when asked if Anderson Silva would join the crowd in cheering Couture Saturday night. “I’ve been training very hard with Anderson these last three months and I’m confident that will show in this fight.”

As if there weren’t enough Couture fans in the crowd, apparently there will also be one in the Octagon.

Nogueira admitted he has always admired the 46-year-old Couture and had hoped he would get the opportunity to fight him.

“If I wasn’t fighting, I would want to be in the first row for this fight,” Nogueira said. “He’s a very good athlete and he’s respectable. I can say that I’m a fan of him. I’ve been wanting to fight him for a long time. He’s one of the best fighters of the heavyweight division.”

The 33-year-old fighter is also looking to bounce back from a lackluster performance in his last fight, a knockout loss at the hands of Frank Mir in December.

Not only was it the first time Nogueira had ever been knocked out in his career, he is known for being extremely difficult to even knock down. Mir did it three times before finishing the fight in the second round.

After entering that fight battling multiple injuries, Nogueira said, he’s looking forward to the opportunity of coming into this weekend healthy and putting the loss behind him.

“Of course overcoming a loss is hard, but it made me train harder and pay more attention on mistakes I was making,” Nogueira said. “I pushed myself much more for this fight.

“Sometimes you go down and we’ve got to prove that when you think you’re down, you’ve got to move yourself and know you can do better. That’s why I’m going to win this fight.”

It’s that kind of attitude that has made Nogueira known as one of the gutsiest fighters in the UFC.

Probably even more so than his terrific jiu-jitsu game, Nogueira is known around the organization for his tremendous heart.

“He’s definitely like ‘Friday the 13th.’ He’s not going to go away easy,” Couture said. “There were a lot of questions about his last fight, rumors about his back, knee, staph. Whatever it was, I had to eliminate that from my preparation and assume to see the best Nogueira we’ve ever seen.”

It’s possible that Couture could see just that, as Nogueira says he’s coming off a terrific training camp that has left him leaner and quicker for this fight.

Although he’s logged more than 30 professional bouts in his mixed martial arts career, Saturday will be just his fourth appearance in the UFC.

As he becomes more familiar with the organization, Nogueira said, his skills will only improve.

“It still has to come,” Nogueira said about whether the UFC had seen his best yet. “My training is good. I haven’t shown my best yet.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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