The Sport of mixed martial arts is currently in the midst of a huge surge in interest in Brazil, and tonight at UFC 142 in Rio De Janeiro their homegrown fighters may well just have taken it’s popularity to a whole new level.
The major Brazilian stars on show all delivered in spectacular fashion, one after the other during the main card.
It started with Edson Barboza who may well have locked up the ‘Knockout Of The year’ award just two weeks into 2012 with his third round spinning wheel kick knockout against Terry Etim, arguably the most spectacular kick in UFC history.
Following that up was Erick Silva’s 29 second TKO of Carlo Prater, though unfortunately the young fighter’s moment of joy was spoiled as a few ground and pound strikes he threw were deemed to be illegal and lead to him losing by disqualification.
Nevertheless, most people will still count this as a win for Silva unofficially, and with such a quick finish coming after his debut last year in Rio when he won by KO in just 40 seconds, he’s quickly established himself as a fan favorite in his home country.
Next up was Rousimar Palhares and he also lived up to his beastly reputation for brutal submissions by taking just over a minute to heel hook Mike Massenzio.
There’s a growing level of interest in Palhares and with the UFC’s middleweight division being short on fresh opponents for current champion Anderson Silva, a win or two more could see him thrust into the title picture, and he’d be an interesting challenge sylistically for the sport’s pound for pound best fighter.
Onto the co-main event and the atmosphere was electric as Vitor Belfort received a superstar’s welcome from the home crowd and then went on to give the fans what they wanted to see by stopping Anthony Johnson by submission in the first round.
Finally featherweight champion Jose Aldo got his moment in the spotlight, and after everything that had gone on earlier that evening he had a tall order on his hands to even get close to the level of excitement we had so far witnessed.
Rather than being intimidated however he appeared confident as he walked out to a hero’s welcome and then managed to ride that wave of momentum in the Octagon when the opening bell sounded.
The way he finished the fight and the scenes of celebration afterwards are certain to live long in the memory.
With just seconds left on the clock in the opening round it had looked as if the opening five minutes was going to end without major incident with Mendes pinning Aldo up against the cage.
Aldo managed to break free though, spun around and launched a perfectly timed kick that floored Mendes followed up by a couple of punches to bring an end to the contest with a time of 4 minutes and 59 seconds.
The fact that Aldo then ran out of the Octagon and into the crowd before being held aloft in Rocky like fashion was an eduring image that’s bound to be shown in highlight reels for years to come.
It was almost poetic, a perfect snapshot that encapsulates just how much the sport has grown into the public consciousness in Brazil in such a short period of time, allowing the nation’s abundance of talented fighters to finally receive the adulation that they deserve.
Tonight’s stand-out performances came at the exact right time for the UFC as this is the start of a huge year for them in Brazil.
After tonight they’ll start preparing for The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, and the fact that Vitor Belfort won sets things up perfectly as he’ll be coaching the season opposite Wanderlei Silva.
Following that Dana White has confirmed that they are seriously looking to do a stadium sized show in the region in June with Anderson Silva the likely headliner, potentially against Chael Sonnen.
The mind boggles at the prospect of that, and if all goes according to plan the sky really is now the limit as to just how popular the sport of mixed martial arts can become in it’s original birthplace.