Maybe you first laid eyes on Brett Rogers during a CBS national telecast in November 2009 when he bloodied the esteemed Fedor Emelianenko in a brutal Strikeforce fight. Perhaps your recollection of the big Minnesotan dates back to a fight five months before that, when he knocked out former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in 22 seconds. Or maybe your earliest encounter with “Da Grim” wasn’t in a fight at all, but rather when he simply tried to pick one with the ferocious street fighter Kimbo Slice following an EliteXC show in ’08.
Whenever it was that you happened to first see the 6-foot-5-inch, 265-pound mauler, you sure lost sight of him in a hurry last year when, two weeks after being submitted by Josh Barnett in a quarterfinal of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, Rogers was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife. He immediately was cut from the fight promotion and ended up with a 60-day jail sentence.
Now Rogers (12-4, 1 no contest) is back in the cage on a (relatively) big stage. After a couple of fights in a regional promotion, he made his debut with the Bellator Fighting Championships in June, and on Friday night he begins what he hopes will be a championship run. The 31-year-old, who has been training with the much respected American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., takes on Alexander Volkov in one of four opening-round bouts of the Bellator Season 7 Heavyweight Tournament (8 p.m. ET, MTV2). Volkov, a 23-year-old knockout artist, has a 16-3 record built mainly in his native Russia.
Rogers sat down with SI.com last week to discuss his new training regimen, an old grudge and what he has in store for Friday night’s opponent.
On fighting in a Bellator tournament: “It’s a blessing to be back on a major stage in Bellator. And to be a part of a tournament, I mean, that’s different for me because it’s back to back. You win your first fight, and you fight the next month. It’s making me feel like my training has to be superior.”
On training with American Top Team: “That right there has been a huge thing for me, because I had not been training the way I was supposed to. I mean, there’s been a lot of stuff going on up here in Minnesota, with the gyms kind of all over the place, training partners not reliable. It’s nice to be in a gym where everybody’s on the same page. It’s all pros, and everybody is in it to win it.”
On what’s different in his game now that he’s with ATT: “Before, fighters could say, ‘I’m going to take Rogers down, and it’s going to be a ground-and-pound situation.’ But now I’ve got something in store for any fighter who thinks he’s going to hold me down and beat me up. It’s not going to happen. I’m down here working with Bigfoot [Silva], [two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champ and 2008 Olympian] Steve Mocco and a bunch of true heavyweights that can really hold you on the mat, and I’m getting up against those guys. So my fighting from my back is getting a whole lot better, now that I have training partners to work with. That’s the only reason I was a fish out of water: I didn’t have any training partners to work with on a consistent basis, so I could figure out, ‘Let me shift my hips this way, let me shift my hips that way.’ I’m feeling real good, man, and I can’t wait to get in there and hopefully catch a submission and wake up all those guys who think Brett Rogers is just a striker.”
On what prompted him to focus on his ground game: “Right after my title fight with Fedor, I fought Josh Barnett. I knew what Barnett was capable of, because I knew of him from back in his Pride days. I had kind of watched him as I was coming up. And I knew what his fights looked like, that he wasn’t going to try to stand with me for long. But the problem with that fight was me being young and dumb and really not paying attention to who I was in with. I thought Barnett would stand with me for a bit, and I’d catch him. But he took me right to the ground, and my mind wasn’t set for a ground war, which it should have been. So that’s what woke me up about ground fighting.”
On how he differs from his old nemesis, Kimbo Slice: “I’m working at it. I’m not going to be known as a Kimbo, a guy who tried but never made it happen. I’m not going to talk about the guy, but he ain’t never proved his jiu-jitsu. And from what I hear, he’s not a jiu-jitsu guy, that’s why he chose to go to boxing. I’m working my jiu-jitsu. I ain’t no black belt, but I ain’t no white belt, either. I’m something in the middle, and where in the middle is what my opponent is going to have to figure out.”
On Friday night’s opponent, Alexander Volkov: “I see myself going out there and smashing this guy. He’s a tall, lanky dude, and I’m a smaller, rounder guy with some heat in the hands and the feet. I’m planning on just beating him up. I want to bully this guy. I want the guy to know what it feels like to be in the cage with a beast, with a monster. He ain’t never fought nobody like me.”
On another scenario for how the fight might go: “If dude give me his arm, I’m going to take it home. I’m all about just trying to capture that win. Whatever he gives me, I’m telling you, I’m taking it off of him.”
On how life is outside the cage, after last year’s family turmoil: “Things are so great it’s hard for me to put it into words. We are a lot stronger from that time. We understand that whole situation now, and we’ve just moved forward. We’re letting everybody else talk about it. They ain’t going to talk about it to my face, but they can write whatever they want on their computer. It’s a blessing, and we are loving our blessings. We just appreciate moving forward in a positive manner. So life is good, man.”
– Jeff Wagenheim