When BJPenn.com caught up with Brett “Da Grim” Rogers this week, the Bellator heavyweight wanted to make one thing abundantly clear: Brett Rogers is back, and he’s “not to be f-cked with.”
Yes, a conversation with Rogers may be littered with F bombs and double negatives, but it’s also refreshingly candid and lacking in pretense. The heavyweight spoke to me about his meteoric rise in the world of MMA, his string of losses to some of the sport’s elite, and how he’s grown since the 2011 domestic altercation with his wife that nearly cost him his career.
What became clear during the course of our conversation, however, is that none of these things define Rogers. Instead, I spoke to a man who realizes just how fortunate he is to be back in a major MMA promotion and who now approaches his career — not to mention his personal life — with a newfound maturity and sense of purpose.
On Alexander Volkov:
Rogers (12-4-1) fights Friday in the Bellator 75 heavyweight tournament quarterfinals against 6’7” Russian striker and BJJ tactician Alexander Volkov (16-3), who is riding a seven fight win streak. I asked Rogers what the fans could expect to see.
“I’m gonna try real hard this weekend to give Alexander [all he can handle]. I need to prove that I’m not just here to win a few fights, I’m in here to win well into the future, the far future. I’m 31 years old. I could fight until I’m 40, you know? It’s not that I want to fight that long … I just want to be known as that guy who is not to be f-cked with by any man.”
Rogers made clear that he sees his current run in Bellator as a second chance.
“I had a whole lot going on in my life before I entered Bellator. [I had been] going through a whole bunch of hellish situations. But now I’m a whole lot smarter, a whole lot calmer. I feel blessed, man. This is not my last time, but it’s definitely my second chance to redeem myself.”
I asked Rogers if he would go so far as to guarantee a victory this weekend against Volkov.
“Like I said, I feel comfortable. I’ve been working with guys [like former Bellator] Heavyweight Champion Cole Konrad. I was traveling with him day in and day out. Bigfoot [Silva], he’s about to fight this weekend as well, in the UFC. I’ve been training with him day in and day out, in the stand up department and on the ground. So I feel comfortable.
“This guy [Volkov] is coming in, 6’7” or 6’8”. He looks like a basketball player. I mean, he’s a kickboxer? I can kick! I can punch! I’m gonna turn the heat up on him, man. He needs to get his pushups in, because he’s gonna have to push my weight off of him in order to make anything happen. He just looks like the typical Muay Thai kickboxer type of guy. A taller, Muay Thai guy — that’s what he looks like to me. I’ll put him to the test. I’m ready to get this fight over with. Then it will be on to the next one.”
While Volkov has nearly 20 fights to his resume, he’s only been in the sport for three years, and all his fights have taken place in Russia or the Ukraine. When Rogers took his first MMA fight in 2005, Volkov was only 16. Rogers says his experience will trump Volkov’s youth this weekend.
“I look at experience now kind of overall. But how experienced is this guy, really? He’s 16 and something? I’ll cut that in half. He’s 8-0. He may look at my like I’m next, but I know my experience and the type of fighters I’ve fought. I’ve fought guys with a lot more experience than he has.
“I’m just gonna be smart. I’m not going out there with my head cut off, just hoping for the best. I’m gonna go out there and capitalize when I can, because I need to fight next month.”
I asked Rogers what he thought of Volkov’s strengths and weaknesses, and if he was at all worried about the striker’s BJJ skills.
“I’m not worried about none of that. I’m just gonna go out there and be me. From what I see off the clips on the Internet, it doesn’t look like he’s no black belt. It doesn’t even look like he’s a purple belt. This guy, he’s 6’7” or 6’8”, something like that, and 220 or 230 lbs. I’m gonna be walking in there at 265 lbs., and he’s gonna feel my heaviness. That’s what I want. I want him to get tired, and if anything, I want him to get tired off of feeling my weight.
“I’m a true heavyweight; he’s a light heavyweight at most. He’s too tall and skinny. I don’t believe he’s fought anyone like me before. I hope he understands that he’s a dangerous fighter to a different fighter, [not me.]”
It’s rare for Rogers, who stands 6’4”, to be markedly shorter than his opponent. Rogers said he was unconcerned with Volkov’s height advantage.
“That’s gonna be a negative for him, because he’s lanky and I’m short. My center is gonna control him. He has to come down to me; I just need to approach him.”
Volkov is known to train with MMA star Fedor Emelianenko, whom Rogers fought and lost to in 2009. I asked Rogers if having Emelianenko as a training partner would benefit Volkov.
“It may. It may help him because me and Fedor have fought. But even when me and Fedor fought, there was only so much shit that happened in the fight. All you’re gonna say is ‘You might need to watch out for this. You might need to watch out for that.’
“The only way I can see him winning is by catching a lucky submission or a lucky punch. I can’t see him beating me up. I can’t see him outdoing me. So I’m going to take advantage of whatever he gives me.”
On Working with American Top Team:
Rogers credits his management and his own work with Florida’s American Top Team as helping him get his career back on track.
“Instead of a gameplan team, I have a life team. I’ve got my man, [manager] Gerald Millen. I’ve got a good team, American Top Team down in Florida. I’ve got a bunch of coaches — Coach Liborio, Coach Conan [Marcus Silveira] — and training partners showing me different techniques, different struggle points and how to get out of them.
“I’m just really working my MMA game, know what I mean? I’ve got a great group backing me, and they’re not telling me ‘Yeah, yeah, do this!’ and just hyping me up. It’s ‘Let’s sit down and talk about this for one second. Do we really want to do this right now?’ And I’ve calmed down and am maturing. I’m maturing as a fighter and just all around.”
On the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament and His Status in the Company:
Rogers said he sees this fight and the larger heavyweight tournament as an opportunity to eventually hold the Bellator Heavyweight Championship.
“I’m definitely seeing this as my first step through the tournament and toward a title shot. The way I see it, whoever wins the tournament might just be the heavyweight champion, because Cole Konrad has retired. There’s not a lot of real talk going on about it, but it sounds to me like [the winner of the heavyweight tournament may win the title]. So all of us are working harder to try to capitalize on winning this tournament.
“Where I’m at now, in Bellator, I feel that I can definitely be the heavyweight champ, and I’m gonna strive for it. I want to be known as the Bellator heavyweight champ sooner rather than later. I want the other fighters to know that I’m busting my ass just as well as they are nowadays. I’m stepping it up with ATT, and that’s gonna be my home place until something else happens.”
I asked Rogers if he would be cut by Bellator for a loss this weekend.
“If I lost this weekend, I don’t feel I would be cut. As long as I go out there and put on a great show, I think they’ll be happy. Now if I go out there and half ass it, shit, anything could happen. But I don’t see that happening. I see me finishing this guy off in the first round. Then on to the next.”
On His Falling Out with, and Subsequent Fight Against, Kevin Asplund:
Rogers only made it into the tournament after his Bellator 71 victory over friend-turned-enemy Kevin Asplund, whose wife Rogers said burned down a part of his Minneapolis-area home. I asked Rogers how his win over Asplund felt, and if that victory was a statement fight for him.
“Oh yeah. That fight right there, it stands out because, you know, we were buddies. I don’t invite everybody over to my house. Everybody’s not welcome. And he was welcome. The wife was having a ladies night over here, and my porch got scorched … from a cigarette butt. And this lady [Asplund’s wife, who had been smoking] she should’ve known better. Put your butt completely out, then go on your way. And so my porch, and a nice part of the side of my house, were scorched. We kept trying to whisper in their ear like ‘Hey, are y’all gonna try to help take care of this?’
“I wish right now I could get on the phone with Alexander [Volkov] and try to figure him out, pick ideas off of him. That would be personal. And that’s the type of fight I like, when there is some emotion behind it.
“But he [Asplund] f-cked up with me. He knew I was gonna go out there, and he chose to sign the paper. He didn’t have to fight me. He could’ve been like ‘Look, I know my guy and he mad. I ain’t about to fight him.’ And he was asking for more money. Whatever.”
Rogers said he and Asplund remain at odds with one another.
“As of right now, it’s basically sitting on the ‘whatever’ side. We’re not talking; we’re not communicating. I don’t see him and he don’t see us. And that’s fine with me, because my family was in the house that night. If my daughter didn’t wake up my wife, who knows how it would’ve been.
“It was just wild for me, because it was our first home. Out in the suburbs, too! So that just really hurt me, you know? They wouldn’t call back and be like ‘How can I help you out?’ I didn’t get none of that. It was just avoidance.
“It probably still would’ve been avoided if I didn’t call him out in the organization. He thought I wasn’t gonna make it, that Bellator wasn’t gonna pick me up because of the situation. But they did, and everything went down. And everybody knows what happened.”