Brett Rogers adds lean to mean
Added awareness tweaks approach of MMA fighter, who challenges Josh Barnett at AAC
But his willingness to adjust his aggressive style and approach for the World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament has made the MMA fighter see the sport in a new light.
Rogers grew up around the Cabrini-Green public housing projects of Chicago surrounded by crime. That tough environment had a hand in molding his character on the ring, where he has earned a reputation as a street fighter.
Rogers' aggression and hard-hitting style paid dividends early in his career. He started 5-0 with three knockouts and two TKOs before joining the defunct EliteXC. Rogers experienced similar success in his three fights with the circuit, extending his record to 8-0 with two additional KOs and one TKO.
While with EliteXC, Rogers called Kimbo Slice's bout with James Thompson "garbage" and said Slice tapped out in the first round despite his third-round TKO victory. Slice confronted Rogers on stage, calling him a "hater," and the two had to be separated.
"Some of the fans say, 'Why don't you bring back the 'hater' Rogers style?'" Rogers said. "That's cool. It's deep in my heart. It's a part of me. It's just I don't feel like I have to walk around saying, '[Expletive] the world.' I've got my ups and downs just like everybody else."
Rogers joined Strikeforce in 2009 and won consecutive TKO decisions. He considers his 10th win to be the key fight of his career, a TKO of Andrei Arlovski in 22 seconds that led to his first main event with Strikeforce.
It was there that Fedor Emelianenko handed Rogers his first professional loss with a second-round knockout.
In his next fight, Rogers still got a shot at heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. But Overeem forced Rogers to fight on his back, and he lost by TKO.
"In my young amateur days, how I was feeling I was still feeling even during the Alistair fight," Rogers said. "I didn't have no order. My order was just, 'This is the day and I need to fight.' I didn't take into consideration what I was really preparing for.
"It humbled me, that loss humbled me a lot. I learned I need to sit down and really calm down and analyze my opponent and not just think or not look past the person."
Rogers adjusted his game plan when he realized his career was more than just about himself and his family. He said his fans poured out an incredible amount of support after his defeats. Discovering that fan base gave Rogers the extra motivation needed to change his preparation for a fight while bringing him a new passion for MMA. He also improved his diet by eliminating fast food.
"Because I understand healthy is going to get you wealthy," he said.
He delicately prepares for each fight differently, looking at potential suitors' fighting background rather than just showing up. Rogers also wants to slow down the pace of his fights, knowing that he can't always have the quick knockout. As much as he enjoys winning in that manner, Rogers wants to abandon the street-fighter perception in favor of being a well-rounded MMA fighter.
"I ain't going to stand in front of you and say I'm a great submission artist because that's not the case," he said. "It takes a lot of partners and it takes a lot of time to get that right. I'm still young -- hell, I'm only 30 years old with plenty more years to come, and this weekend is going to prove it."
Rogers has toned down his "hater" mentality, understanding that he doesn't always have to be rebellious. But once the bell rings, he still has that chip on his shoulder as he did when he was growing up.
"I'm going to take that into this fight," Rogers said. "I know Barnett. He's just that guy that wants to take me down, ground and pound, and that's the only energy he's going to give me. When I look in his face, I know I'm going to see that more than anything."
For his part, Barnett knows to expect a "big, heavy puncher" come Saturday at the AAC.
"When he was born, the doctor slapped him and he slapped the doctor and knocked him out," Barnett joked. "That's the kind of thing, he's just heavy-handed."
Master Tesfatsion is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.