In his heyday, Mike Tyson was one of the most fearsome boxers who ever lived. He was one of the game’s hardest punchers and he spoke openly about the damage he intended to cause and the pain he intended to inflict.
As a result, he won many bouts simply by intimidating otherwise capable opponents. Bruce Seldon appeared petrified when he defended his World Boxing Association title against Tyson in 1996 and meekly surrendered in the first round, going down from a punch that appeared to barely land at all.
Sometimes, it pays dividends to be oblivious. And Brett Rogers, Strikeforce’s rising mixed martial arts heavyweight contender, is about as oblivious as it comes when it comes to the reputation of other MMA fighters.
He’s preparing to fight Fedor Emelianenko, perhaps the most difficult to defeat man in the business, on Nov. 7 at the Sears Centre in suburban Chicago. And while the mere thought of facing Emelianenko is enough to melt many a potential challenger, Rogers is hardly concerned.
You see, he is blissfully unaware of Emelianenko’s gaudy record.
Emelianenko is 30-1 with one no contest and is on a more than eight-year winning streak. He’s widely regarded as the world’s finest heavyweight and is No. 3 in the Yahoo! Sports monthly rankings. The Russian’s only loss came in 17 seconds of the first round on Dec. 22, 2000, when he was cut in the opening seconds of a fight and couldn’t continue.
He’s destroyed the best heavyweights who have walked the planet, from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and many others in between.
Rogers, though, who recently began his camp for Emelianenko, isn’t fretting about Emelianenko’s intimidating persona and gaudy record for exactly one reason: He’s not well-versed enough in the sport to know much about Emelianenko’s background.
Rogers worked at a Sam’s Club tire center in Minnesota full-time until last year and was a part-time mixed martial artist. He has only recently begun focusing on the sport as a profession and isn’t scouring the Internet searching for Emelianenko highlights.
“I know very, very little about the man,” Rogers said. “What I know is what I’ve heard on the Internet, but it’s nothing that makes me prepare any differently. I understand the one thing about this sport is that you have to take every man you face seriously and I totally understand that.
“I prepare as hard as I can for every fight. I understand from what I’ve seen that he’s the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. I respect that and I respect him for what he’s accomplished. But I’m not intimidated or worried about fighting him. This is what I do. He’s just my next opponent.”
Rogers is coming off a career-defining knockout of former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski on June 6 in St. Louis, Mo. Arlovski made the critical mistake of standing in front of Rogers and trading punches. He lasted only 22 seconds as a result.
The fight was nationally televised by Showtime and created a huge buzz for Rogers. When Strikeforce signed Emelianenko as a free agent in August once Affliction’s fight promotion business folded shop, Rogers was immediately near the top of the list of possible Emelianenko opponents.
The win over Arlovski not only increased his visibility in MMA circles, but it also helped to expand his horizons. He said he was approached about playing Mr. T’s old role of B.A. Baracus in the upcoming movie, “The A-Team.” The role actually went to another fighter, ex-UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
But those 22 seconds of work turned Rogers from a virtual unknown into a viable opponent for the world’s top heavyweight.
“No question about it, it’s had a lasting impact,” Rogers said of his knockout of Arlovski. “It helped me to understand where I stood in the heavyweight depth. Andrei Arlovski is a guy with a big name who has accomplished a lot in this sport. It boosted my confidence and took a lot of things to another level for me.
“All of a sudden, I had movie offers and TV offers, which kind of surprised me. I knew it was a good win, but I guess I never really gave much of a thought about what it would mean as far as the bigger picture.”
Beating Arlovski is one thing; a win over Emelianenko, though, would push him into an entirely different stratosphere.
Emelianenko has won his last five fights by first-round stoppage, as well as six of the last seven and seven of the last nine. He’s as fearsome and intimidating of a fighter who has ever competed in MMA.
There’s probably as much of an aura around him now than there was around Royce Gracie in the early days of the UFC, when Gracie routinely was outweighed by more than 50 pounds but was piling up quick submission wins.
One of Rogers’ strengths, though, in addition to the thunder in his hands is his equanimity. He’s not getting particularly worked up by the prospect of meeting Emelianenko and is simply preparing to be the best he can be on Nov. 7.
“I’m not going to get caught up in ‘Fedor’s got this’ or ‘Fedor’s doing that,’ ” Rogers said. “I’m training, too. I have two arms and two legs just like he does. I choose to look at it that he’s just another man in my way of me accomplishing my goals. All the talking and all the stuff on the Internet isn’t going to matter when they close the door on Nov. 7 and it’s just me and him in there. It’s going to come down to preparation and execution and who the better man is that night.
“I feel like this is my time now and I’m ready to show the world what I can do. It’s not an intimidating thing (facing Fedor). It’s an exciting thing because it’s an opportunity to make my own mark in this business.”