May kicks off with the UFC making its return to Brazil for a packed Pay-Per-View event headlined by women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes defending her title against streaking challenger Raquel Pennington.
With the South American fighting nation set to climb back into the spotlight, it feels like a good time to revisit some of the most exciting performances and memorable evenings that have taken place when the Octagon has touched down in Brazil.
This is The 10.
UFC Ultimate Brazil: “The Phenom” swarms “The Axe Murderer”
At the time, these were just a couple of young Brazilian kids with big potential – a 21-year-old Vitor Belfort with all of six professional fights to his name squaring off with Wanderlei Silva, a 22-year-old with one more official bout under his belt stepping into the Octagon for the first time.
Today, they’re both legends, and while this fight had little lasting impact on Silva’s legacy, it remains part of Belfort’s highlight reel to this day.
Over the first 36 seconds, “The Phenom” stayed outside of Silva’s range, happy to get a feel for what the Chute Boxe Academy product had to offer. Only one strike landed – an inside leg kick from Silva – and referee John McCarthy prompted the future icons to get more active.
Belfort’s first left hand connected flush and snapped Silva’s head back. The second made him take a step backwards and from there, Belfort chased him across the cage, firing a string of punches at his head before burying him with a couple clean lefts along the fence.
The bout was stopped at 44 seconds of the opening round. In the span of eight seconds, Belfort went from not having thrown a punch to drowning Silva with a deluge of offense. He really was phenomenal.
UFC 134: The Return
After nearly 13 years, the UFC finally ventured to Brazil for a second time in the summer of 2011, bringing a fight card loaded with national heroes to the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Ironically, the first fight back in the fighting-mad nation featured a Haitian-Canadian and a kid from the Pacific Northwest, as Yves Jabouin edged Ian Loveland in the first UFC bout in Brazil in more than a decade.
On the whole, it was a terrific night for local talent, as only one Brazilian (Luiz Cane) lost a bout to a non-Brazilian (Stanislav Nedkov) and the home side went 10-4 overall.
Included in those triumphs were the explosive debut of enigmatic welterweight Erick Silva, first-round knockout wins for national hero Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and a hard-fought victory for lightweight upstart Edson Barboza over former TUF winner Ross Pearson in a Fight of the Night-winning tilt.
But the capper was Anderson Silva’s second-round finish of Yushin Okami, which extended his unbeaten run in the Octagon to 14 and gave him nine consecutive successful middleweight title defenses. It was vintage Silva too as he defeated the last man to beat him with his patented blend of panache and precision.
UFC 142: “The King of Rio” celebrates with his people and Barboza lands “The Kick”
Five months after finally getting a second show in Brazil under its belt, the UFC was right back at the same venue in Rio de Janeiro to kick off 2012 and two memorable finishes ensure it will be remembered for years to come.
First is “The Kick,” Edson Barboza’s perfect, spinning finish against Terry Etim. I’ve honestly seen this highlight more than any other in UFC history and it remains breathtaking to this day. From the speed of Barboza’s turn to the way Etim’s body instantly goes rigid, it’s the kind of highlight that is instantly burned in your brain for all eternity.
The second is Jose Aldo rushing out into the crowd to celebrate his first-round knockout win over Chad Mendes. The finish was beautiful, but controversial, as Aldo planted a clean knee on Mendes’ chin, but only after grabbing a handful of fence to defend a takedown. Nevertheless, the quiet kid from Manaus was triumphant and immediately fled the Octagon to revel in his victory amongst the fans.
Both have become the signature moments of these two veteran standouts over the course of their UFC careers and they are endings that made this event unforgettable.
UFC 153: “The Spider” and “The Squeeze”
Initially, this event was going to be headlined by Aldo defending his featherweight title against Erik Koch, but then Koch was forced out with an injury. Frankie Edgar jumped at the opportunity to replace him, but a month before the show, Aldo was required to withdraw after getting hurt in a motorcycle accident, leaving the return to Rio without a star attraction.
Enter Anderson Silva.
The reigning middleweight champ stepped up to face Stephan Bonnar in an impromptu, three-round light heavyweight main event that was a vintage effort from the Brazilian legend.
Just as the main card at UFC 142 kicked off with a finish that can be known by a simple descriptor, so too did UFC 153.
In his second fight since relocating to welterweight, Demian Maia locked onto a neck crank against Rick Story and started squeezing, cinching in the hold with such force that it made blood shoot from Story’s nose.
This is why I will always simply refer to this finish as “The Squeeze.”
UFC Fight Night Henderson vs. Rua 2: Sequel proves to be as good as the original
The first time Dan Henderson and “Shogun” Rua were paired together at UFC 139, it felt like a terrific throwback to the glory days of PRIDE; a matchup between two legends on the fringes of contention that should put on a good show.
They ended up going shot-for-shot for 25 minutes and delivering one of the best fights of all-time.
Two years and a couple months later, they were booked to do it again, but both men were in very different places. Henderson had lost three straight, while Rua had split his four appearances in between. No one knew what to expect and few anticipated anything close to the original in the sequel.
And then they went out and had themselves another Fight of the Night-winning scrap that featured as many twists and turns as their first encounter condensed into two rounds and change before Henderson detonated a short right hand on Rua’s chin and pounded out the finish.
UFC 179: Aldo and Mendes combine on a classic
Following his UFC 142 loss to Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes went out and collected five straight victories to earn a second crack at the featherweight champion. After originally being scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, the bout was re-booked in Rio and the Team Alpha Male standout once again ventured to the titleholder’s turf in search of victory.
Where their first bout ended in the waning moments of the opening round and is remembered largely for Aldo’s celebration in the crowd, their second bout was an absolute classic that finished as the runner-up in Thomas Gerbasi’s annual highly unofficial awards on this site.
This was Aldo at his steely best, pushed to the limit by an ultra-talented and game opponent and it’s the kind of fight that deserves re-watching at least once a year.
Ultimate Fight Night: Condit vs. Alves: “The Return of The Natural Born Killer”
Before this, the last time Carlos Condit was in the Octagon, it ended with him clutching at his knee in agony at UFC 171. It had been 14 months since the former interim welterweight champ stepped into the cage following knee surgery and there were plenty of questions about whether he could return to top form after such a lengthy layoff and a serious, albeit relatively routine, procedure as he squared off with veteran Thiago Alves.
The patented scowl was there in the corner as they got ready to start and after the opening five minutes, it was clear that Condit was confident, comfortable and not dealing with any real ring rust.
And then “The Natural Born Killer” came out in the second.
A minute into the round, Condit dropped Alves with a clean left hand, busting Alves’ nose. He swarmed with punches before measuring short elbows as the Brazilian tried to defend and get back to his feet. Then came standing, swinging elbows that crashed into Alves’ bloody face, splattering more crimson on the canvas and vicious ground-and-pound, followed by more short, stinging elbows and follow-up strikes that prompted Brian Stann to rightful call him “a kickboxing tornado.”
The bout was stopped between frames and it was clear that “The Natural Born Killer” was back on the hunt.
UFC 198: Miocic silences the masses in Curitiba
This was another one of those events where just about everything was coming up roses for the fighters representing the host nation.
Each of the first seven bouts were won by a Brazilian and national superstars “Shogun” Rua, Cris Cyborg and “Jacare” Souza re-ignited the capacity crowd in Curitiba after Bryan Barberena brought the hopes of a perfect night to a halt by upending Warlley Alves in the main card opener.
Just past the halfway point of the opening round, Werdum pressed forward with more aggression than he had exhibited earlier in the contest, trying to chase down the challenger, who was doing a good job of circling out and resetting. This time, however, Miocic stopped in the middle of his backpedal, planted his right foot and shut off the champion’s lights with a clean right hand on the chin.
As Miocic celebrated with his coaches and Werdum groggily began to ask, “What happened?” the crowd inside Arena da Baixada sat in silent disbelief.
UFC Fight Night Belfort vs. Gastelum: Barboza connects on another classic knockout
Edson Barboza has been a fixture in the lightweight Top 10 for a number of years and stands as one of the most consistently entertaining and explosive talents on the roster. In every minute of every bout, the lightning quick Brazilian who now lives and trains in New Jersey has the potential to end the fight in a flash and often delivers at least one “that just missed” attack per contest.
Facing Dariush in Fortaleza, Barboza showed what makes him such a special talent and must-see member of the deep 155-pound ranks, connecting with one of the most perfectly timed flying knee attacks you’re ever going to see in this sport. That’s not hyperbole either – this finish was a thing of beauty and brought the fight to an instant end.
The first round was close as both men were happy to exchange on the feet. They really started getting after it at the outset of the second, still content to trade shots with one another, neither man really pulling too far ahead at any point.
But when Dariush pawed with a jab and dropped his head looking to change levels, Barboza elevated in place, driving his knee into Dariush’s chin and cutting off all the power coursing through his body in a flash.
The Terry Etim finish at UFC 142 gets a ton of run because it’s a more dramatic move and cinematic ending, but for my money, this is the more impressive finish.
UFC 212: Holloway topples “The King of Rio” on his home turf
At the close of the second episode of Embedded heading into his featherweight title unification bout with Jose Aldo in Rio, Max Holloway jokes that he and his team completed a hike so that he could survey the land that was going to be his in a few days.
Though he laughed at the statement, “Blessed” was only partially joking – he wasn’t actually going to usurp the lush territory as part of the spoils of war, but he was going to march into the Octagon and dethrone “The King of Rio.”
A few days later, he did just that.
Holloway’s performance against Aldo was a sight to behold. With each round, the Hawaiian standout’s confidence grew and emboldened him to press forward and take the fight to the Brazilian legend a little more. In the closing moments in the second, Holloway smiled and styled after Aldo cracked home clean shots, happy to engage and sure that he could take the best his foe could offer.
Aldo wouldn’t make it out of the third as Holloway found his rhythm, upped the tempo and brought the fight to a close with a finishing sequence that started tandem two-piece combos that put Aldo on the canvas and ended two minutes later with Holloway raining down blows from back mount.
While he didn’t take ownership of the beautiful Brazilian countryside he surveyed from on high, “Blessed” did ascend to the throne as the new king of the featherweight division.