By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
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By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
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By CP Staff
At the start of the fight, Slice charged Petruzelli, who backpedaled and threw a defensive jab that found Kimbo's chin and brought an unceremonious end to the Kimbo hype.
With its most bankable star compromised, EliteXC folded up the tent and went bankrupt.
For Rogers, who had signed a contract for another three fights thinking he'd get a high-profile bout with Slice, it meant he was out of work. And EliteXC wouldn't let Rogers out of his contract. He was an asset to be sold to the highest bidder.
With no fights on the horizon and three children to feed, Rogers returned to his job at Sam's Club.
"I'm a survivor, man," Rogers says.
Salvation came in the form of Strikeforce, an upstart MMA promoter from San Jose. In February, Strikeforce purchased some of the remains of EliteXC and announced a three-year deal with Showtime.
Strikeforce contacted Reilly the following month, asking if Brett could be ready to fight in three to four weeks.
"I told them we would," recalls Reilly. "If we can fight on the main card."
Strikeforce paid Rogers part of his purse up front so he could quit the tire business and prepare for the bout. He knocked out Abongo Humphrey in the second round with a combination of knees, fists, and unhinged aggression.
Two months later, Rogers came in as an extreme underdog against former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. The result was one of the biggest upsets of the year.
The new Rogers was the same fighter, but with a heightened urgency. It was time to strike at success with his oversized fists.
IN LATE SEPTEMBER, a photographer from EA Sports flies into Minneapolis to digitally map Rogers's body for inclusion in EA's MMA video game.
The photographer has Rogers bug out his eyes, scowl, and grin. Next, Rogers holds out his arm for a punch, rotates 45 degrees, waits for the shutter to snap, then rotates another 45 degrees, until he's rotated a full 360. The photographer apologizes for the awkward nature of the shoot.
"No problem," says Rogers. "Of everything I've been doing, this is the one thing I'm geeked about."
More photos are taken—of his feet, back, knees, and calves. Next come close-ups of his tattoos and hands. Then the photographer stands on a box to get shots of his mohawk before asking Rogers to pull up his shorts and show off his quads.
Reluctantly, Rogers complies. "I don't know if this is the best look for me."
The photographer continues to shoot. Fellow fighters in the gym whistle and catcall. "Brett, you sure this is an EA photo shoot?"
"Don't you worry," he responds. "'Cause when I'm finished here I'll be over there to beat your ass."
Rogers looks to the photographer with an apologetic shrug.
When the shoot's all finished, Rogers thanks the photographer numerous times, reiterating his excitement about being a character in the game.
He knows it's a far cry from Sam's Club.
"Been a long time coming, man," he says. "Too damn long, you know?"
ONE EVENING IN October, Mark Dale watches 30 fighters spar on the mats. With a granite build and graying hair, he looks like a retired drill sergeant.
"Fighting brings in every single type of person out there," he says, surveying the gym. "Training in front of us is everyone from a genetic scientist at the University of Minnesota to a convicted felon with Norwegian Power tattoos."
Among the group is Emanuel Newton, who flew to Minnesota to pretend to be Fedor. Newton imitates the movements of the Russian, sending fast, looping punches, working underhooks for sambo throws, and always searching for a kimura.
"Fedor's not that technical of a fighter," says Newton. "He just does what he does extremely well. But this sport is evolving fast. That's the reason he can be beat."
For a fighter known mostly for his punching power, Rogers spends an inordinate amount of time working on grappling. In one instance, he rotates from his guard, leans his shin into the side of his partner's head, pushes off with his fist, and stands up. Reilly looks on and barks his approval.
"That's his world down there," says Rogers. "If I feel him going for an arm or leg, I'm going to get the hell up out of there."
If Rogers beats Fedor, it will turn the MMA rankings upside down. In a sport where anything can happen, Fedor's nearly perfect record of 30-1 is unheard of. For years, he reigned as the undisputed heavyweight champion, and is still considered by many to be the world's toughest fighter.
But as Rogers walks off the mats with his teammates, drenched in sweat and glistening in the fluorescent lights, he has a smile on face. The fight can't come soon enough for him.
"I'm ready to go," Rogers says. "I'm ready today. Man, I want that guy's chin. But I'll be patient. I got a week to crystallize my techniques. But I could go today, right now. This minute."