One of the lasting images from UFC events the past two years is Jose Aldo knocking out Chad Mendes at UFC Rio and immediately running out of the octagon, into the arms of adoring Brazilian fans in the crowd and eventually onto the shoulders of a fan as he was brought back toward the cage.
That moment on Jan. 14, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, deserves a permanent spot on highlight reels and celebratory montages.
As the UFC returns to Brazil this Saturday for UFC on Fuel TV 10, with Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira in the main event, expect to see a similar level of excitement from the crowd. No guarantees that anyone will sprint into crowd as Aldo did, though, but there will be joy and excitement inside Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza, Brazil.
“There’s nothing like it, man,” UFC broadcaster Kenny Florian told Newsday earlier this week. “The culture of soccer creates that same atmosphere. The way they cheer for their team, the way they cheer for their fighers are very much the same. The chants, the singing, the stomping in the arena. The wave. How rare is that you actually see a legitimate wave again and again in an arena with everyone taking part in it?”
Florian, who will provide commentary Saturday night, first traveled to Brazil in 1999 for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world championships. He has traveled to the country more than a dozen times since, he said, to train and live. Florian, a black belt in BJJ and since retired from the UFC shortly after losing to Aldo in October 2011, was in the arena when the UFC last went to Brazil — less than a month ago.
“The volume in the arena is unbelievable. There were 7,000 fans in the last event in Arena Jaragua, Santa Catarina [May 18], and it seemed like there were 21,000 fans. I couldn’t hear Jon Anik during one of the prelims. I had trouble hearing him and that was at the prelims, never mind the main event. It’s an energy like I’ve never seen.”
Brazilian fighters are no stranger to success in mixed martial arts — from the Gracie family’s proliferation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the fighting success of middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Yet, as a whole, Florian said he has seen a significant improvement overall.
“You look at the way they’re training, how they’re integrating everything,” Florian said. “A great example is the Nova Uniao camp. They are complete fighters.
“You could take pretty much the top five Nova Uniao fighters in each weight class — obviously they dominate the lower weight classes — and you’d see that, really, they’re great at everything. From their wrestling, their counter-wrestling, their striking. They look like Muay Thai fighters, their jiu-jitsu is excellent. Just everything, all the way around. They’re just extremely well-trained, and that goes for a lot of Brazilian fighters now. They’re training in everything. They’re really fighting and training like a professional athlete. I think that’s really been the difference, their approach.”