It hasn't been that long yet, but Brett Rogers sure has come a long way from the body shop.
The heavyweight, who was born in Chicago and lived there until he was 10 years old, was working at a Sam's Club in Minnesota earlier this year -- doing tire installations.
On Saturday, he fights the man considered by many to be the best mixed martial artist in the world, live on national network television.
Rogers (10-0) puts his unbeaten record on the line against a fighter so legendary he's practically a myth, Russian Fedor Emelianenko, in the main event of a Strikeforce card at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. The event will be Strikeforce's debut on CBS in prime time as well as Fedor's debut in the promotion after turning away the UFC's reportedly lucrative offer over the summer.
At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Rogers will have a size advantage against Fedor, who is 32-1 and hasn't loss in nearly nine years. But he still comes in a heavy underdog to the legendary Russian -- something he understands.
"I would say yes, I'm underrated," Rogers said Monday. "But I know how it goes, especially fighting Fedor. He's the man, he's No. 1. I expected that for this fight. Hopefully afterward, I'll have more respect. As long as I'm winning, I'm fine."
Of Rogers' 10 fights, only two have gone past the first round, and he has won all of them with stoppages -- nine knockouts and one submission from strikes. To say he's a heavy-handed striker is an understatement, as another Russian, former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, found out in June when Rogers stopped him in 22 seconds.
If Rogers is to shock the MMA world with an upset, it might take patience and picking his moments. With the size disadvantage and Rogers' power, Fedor is almost certainly better off trying to take the fight to the ground, where he has had much success over larger opponents outsmarting them with his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills.
"I've been training for months for this guy," Rogers said. "I feel like I know him. I'm just gonna be focused and keep my head straight. He likes to throw his hands for a little while and take you down. All I have to do is wait for him to take me down. He's not gonna be able to handle me standing up. I'm coming in there as the bigger and stronger guy, and I defintely want to control the fight."
Fedor, a sambo expert who has won five straight Russian Combat Sambo golds, famously trains in natural environs in his Mother Russia without the use of fancy gyms. Ivan Drago, he is not. And for his part, when it comes to predicting how the fight might go, he remains, predictably, shrouded in mystery.
"I cannot tell you exactly how the fight will go," Fedor said through his translator. "Everything will depend on what my opponent will offer me and what I will be able to offer my opponent."
Fedor does know that though he comes into the bout as one of the world's most popular and enigmatic fighters, Rogers might have the Chicago crowd on his side. Ironically, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker said recently that it was Fedor who suggested fighting in Chicago -- partly because of its large Russian population. But he won't have any more nerves than usual.
"I'm not really nervous during the fight or before the fight," Fedor said. "One day before the fight, I might be nervous, certainly -- I'm a hugman being. A lot of people will come and support Brett Rogers -- I understand that. I do have some experience in fights where the audience mostly supported my opponent. But I don't think about that. i'm preparing for my fight, and I just want to have an interesting and beautiful fight."
Coker said just as telling as the CBS ratings and the live gate at the Sears Centre will be the quality of the Rogers-Fedor main event.
"There's a TV gauge, a fan gauge, a sponsor gauge," Coker said. "But we also want to see an amazing fight -- which I think you will see on Saturday. Hopefully this will be the epic battle we're all looking for. Fedor has fought everyone. He's No. 1 in the world. So in addition to all the economic gauges, we also want to see an amazing fight."
Joining that main event on the live televised card will be a Strikeforce middleweight title fight between Jake Shields and Jason "Mayhem" Miller; a light heavyweight non-title fight between champion Gegard Mousasi and former UFC fighter Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou; and a heavyweight clash between Antonio Silva and former UFC standout Fabricio Werdum.
The preliminary card is stocked with Chicagoland- and Indiana-based fighters, including Portage's John Kolosci, Schererville's DeRay Davis, Mark Miller (Gilbert Grappling, Tinley Park) and Jeff Curran of north suburban Island Lake, who famously called out East Chicago native Miguel Torres at the Hammond Civic Center a year ago.
Tickets for Saturday's event are available via Ticketmaster. In addition to the fight card, fans can also attend Friday's free weigh-in event at the Sears Centre. Doors open at 4:30 and the fighters will hit the scales at 5 p.m.
Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. preliminary card; 8 p.m. main card
Where: Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates
TV: CBS (Ch. 2), 8 p.m. for four-fight main card
Weigh-ins: Free and open to the public Friday at the Sears Centre. Doors open at 4 p.m. with fighters on the scale at 5 p.m. For fans attending the weigh-ins, Strikeforce will be handing out autograph cards for fighters to sign.
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers
Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. Jake Shields (for vacant Strikeforce middleweight title)
Light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (non-title match)
Antonio Silva vs. Fabricio Werdum
Marloes Coenen vs. Roxanne Modafferi
Mark Miller vs. Deray Davis
Jeff Curran vs. Dustin Neace
John Kolosci vs. Shamar Bailey
Louis Taylor vs. Nate Moore
Jonatas Novaes vs. Christian Uflacker