UFC’s Return to Brazil Important For Sport But Provided Few Thrills Saturday Night

When the UFC announced months ago that they would return to Brazil for the first time in 13 years it was viewed as a bold if entirely obvious move. And, as expected, the card tonight, which was broadcast live from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, was stacked with fighters who hail from that country. It was an easy task for matchmaker Joe Silva as their roster is stacked with talented Brazilians and for the most part they were placed in fights designed to earn them wins and give the fans exactly what they came to see.

Overall there were 13 Brazilians on the card though in three cases, Erick Silva vs. Luis Ramos, Yuri Alcantara vs. Felipe Arantes and Raphael Assuncao vs. Johnny Eduardo, they were forced to fight each other. And much to the delight of those inside the arena their success was nearly universal with Luiz Cane being the only one who suffered a loss at the hands of a non-Brazilian. On the preliminary card heavy favorites such as Paulo Thiago and Thiago Tavares dominated on their way to victory. Plus Erick Silva, one of the UFC’s hot new properties, helped his stock jump significantly thanks to a steely knockout that happened early in the first round.

The main card of the evening got off to a rough start thanks to the aforementioned Luiz Cane loss as Stanislav Nedkov’s standup game proved to be too much to handle. After that though everything fell directly into place including what may have been the dramatic high point of the evening as returning legend Minotauro Nogueira showed little ring rust as he beat up and eventually flattened rising star Brendan Schaub in the opening frame. Prior to the fight many would have seen that as a potential disappointment as Nogueira came in an underdog who had much uncertainly surrounding him and his health.

Shogun Rua, another great of the sport, entered the Octagon tonight for the first time since his abysmal performance against Jon Jones in March when he lost his Light Heavyweight title. Tonight he found Forrest Griffin in what should have been an evenly matched contest but quickly evolved into another showcase for a hometown boy as Shogun proved that he too still has plenty in the tank and can still strike with the best of them. After a messy looking scramble found the two combatants on the mat Shogun quickly and seamlessly transitioned into a nasty ground and pound which finished Griffin almost instantly.

The main event though was what all of Brazil had shown up to see as current Middleweight champ and newly minted celebrity Anderson Silva looked to move his UFC win streak to 14 as he took on Japanese contender Yushin Okami. Round 1 was close and tough to score with Okami dominating more of the round but slipping up late and thus allowing Silva to hit some high octane shots. In the next frame Silva resorted back to the tactics that he used against Forrest Griffin two years ago wherein he dropped his hands and baited Okami to hit him. Once Okami took the bait (because, really, what else was he going to do) Silva dodged and countered knocking his opponent to the mat. Okami recovered and got back to his feet, but Silva repeated the process and the next time he toppled Okami proved to be the last as Okami clearly was a defeated man and offered little more than turtling until the fight was called and Silva was declared the victor.

We already know that this card will be considered a financial success and a crafty business decision. The UFC has gone ahead and announced that they intend to return to the country next year only in a much larger arena. But the card itself left a little to be desired as things were so heavily stacked in the Brazilians favor and they did so well that it was hard to find any true drama here. The fighters who were tasked with taking on the likes of Shogun, Silva and Nogueira are strong, credible men who should have brought a lot more to South America with them than they did. Maybe it was tough for them to adjust to the climate or maybe the hometown crowd really brought the noise but I really expected to see more from them. Okami appeared to be a beaten man as soon as Silva hit him with one good sot, ditto for Griffin. Schaub was definitely out there giving it his all and just got caught by somebody who happens to be really, really good at this whole MMA thing. But the blandness of the card aside it was really exciting to see the UFC move into this all important market and one does hope that in the years ahead they can continue to put on big time shows there.

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