This Saturday’s UFC 134 card will be unique in the fact that it will mark the first time the UFC has returned to Brazil, a nation that help spawn the UFC, in 13 years. The UFCs first ever promotion to take place in the land that produced some of the greatest fighters to ever enter the cage happened back in 1998 at UFC 17.5 (commonly referred to as “Ultimate Brazil”) which featured a middleweight title fight between reigning champion Frank Shamrock and John Lober in the night’s main event.
By most accounts the night presented fans with abundance of action, including a fantastic bout between Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort, which makes the UFCs decision to wait over a decade to come back all the more perplexing.
Of course, as UFC President Dana White is fond of saying, the UFC is a business and the company has to make sound and profitable business decisions. Fact of the matter is that there was a legitimate concern that Brazil’s struggling economy would make any promotion held in the South American nation a loss leader in the most optimistic of terms. But, it appears that hope of a profit was not lost on staging a Brazilian event as tickets for UFC 134 (dubbed “UFC Rio” by most enterprising fans and media types) sold out in hours leaving the UFCs jaunt down to Rio de Janeiro this week somewhat of a big deal in the country that typically gets crazy over soccer.
So what, if any, impact will be made from the UFCs big return to Brazil? Well, right off the bat, one could look at the economic benefit of having such a huge event invade your country. Granted, UFC Rio may not register a seismic increase in dollars spent across the nation quite like the Olympics or the World Cup may do for the nation, but it’s an unmistakable fact that Rio de Janeiro will benefit greatly from the UFCs invasion. Having lived in a city that has hosted a UFC event it’s well-known that when the UFC comes to town, a trail of fighters and celebrities follow often hosting parties and shindigs at local bars and clubs. Don’t think that this will not pump a good chunk of money into the local industry, as well as various hotels and beach resorts.
Sure, an infusion of cash into a struggling economy is almost always a good thing but the benefit of UFC in Brazil has much more long-term benefit; it offers exposure to modern day MMA. Sure, the contributions to the sport of MMA from Brazil our lengthy and without question. Hell, the UFC, and modern MMA as we know it, can be squarely attributed to an idea by the Gracie Family to hold a tournament showcasing different fighting styles without rules. Brazilians contributions to the sport these days are equally impressive with Rio native Anderson Silva being widely considered the best fighter on the planet.
The list of top-tier fighters hailing from Brazil is awe inspiring to say the least. But, despite the many notable merits of Brazilian fighters, MMA as a whole still lags behind in popularity to a number of other sports with soccer being the king to Latin American sports fans. The UFC Rio will go a long way in establishing a brand of MMA that may draw new fans from the numerous curious attendees looking to see what the big deal is.
This is where the UFC looks to make the most of its trip this weekend. We already know Brazil to be a hotbed of talent for MMA fighters. However, just think of the quantity and quality of the next generation of Brazilian fighters who have grown up longing to be a UFC champion like Anderson Silva of Jose Aldo.
The UFC and the juggernaut hype machine that follow it will surly convert neophytes into casual observers, and casual observers into hardcore fans. UFC 134 has the formula to make this happen with the fight card not only featuring 14 Brazilian fighters including the aforementioned Silva, but it will also be aired live and free to residents of Rio as well. This also fails to mention to pomp surrounding the UFC invasion of country many equate with the roots of MMA. The UFC and Brazil will always be tied to each other. It’s just good to know that both parties have begun to acknowledge this.