Despite currently holding UFC gold, interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira believes he's still two fights away from being the true world champion.
And as Nogueira recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
), he wants to go through Randy Couture to get there.
"When I fought against (Tim) Sylvia, I was thinking about being the world champion," Nogueira said of his UFC 81 interim title bout. "And I made it.
"Randy Couture came back, and he has the title, too. I think I have to fight against him, and whoever wins is going to be the real world champion of the UFC."
Couture will first have to get past his UFC 91 battle with WWE-import Brock Lesnar. Although Lesnar will enjoy a 40-pound weight advantage in the bout, Nogueira feels confident that Couture will prevail.
"I think Randy Couture is going to win the fight," Nogueira said. "That's my opinion. He's much more experienced. He's got a big history as a fighter."
Nogueira must also do his part by winning a year-end battle with fellow "The Ultimate Fighter" coach Frank Mir.
Nogueira said he has a special respect for Mir. In addition to being world-class jiu-jitsu players, the two share a common bond of battling back from life-threatening automobile injuries to attain MMA success.
Nogueira's accident was during his childhood in Brazil, while Mir's took place in 2004 at the height if his UFC career.
"I've got respect for this kid," Nogueira said of Mir. "He has come back from a very hard accident before, same as me. So he's kind of a special guy. I've got a lot of respect for that.
"He's got a lot of toughness. He came back from the accident, and he's still a fighter. That injury to his leg, and now he's one of the four best heavyweight fighters in the world. I've got a lot of respect for him for that. I had a hard time with the accident, too. That made me tough, and it made me stronger after the accident."
Respect aside, Nogueira is confident he has the upper hand in his matchup with Mir.
"I think I've got better stand-up than Frank Mir," Nogueira said. "We are jiu-jitsu guys with other skills too. He's got good wrestling. He's got good Muay-Thai. He's got some kicks.
"But I think I've got better hands. I'm much more experienced than him. I've faced a lot of better guys, and I think that is going to make the difference when we step into the ring. I also think I've got better endurance than him. I'm going to use that in the cage when I fight him."
And if Nogueira is able to deliver a victory, he promises even more in a potential bout with Couture.
"I'm a fighter," Nogueira said. "I became a fighter to fight the best guys in the world. People who know me know that I love a challenge.
"Randy Couture just came back to the UFC, so it's good for the UFC promotion. He's got a good name. He's a tough guy. I was already set to fight against Frank Mir because of ["The Ultimate Fighter"], and he's going to be a good opponent, too. So it's one more challenge in my life.
"I've got to fight Frank Mir. I'm thinking about Frank Mir right now. After the fight I will think about Randy Couture. I would love to fight this guy.
"If we win, we're going to have one of the best fights the UFC has ever seen before."
If Nogueira wasn't already the toughest, most motivated fighter there is, him wanting to fight Couture will make him get through Mir no matter what.