Brazilian fighters have always been respected in the MMA scene, since the creation of what would become the UFC by the Gracie family, through the domination of Minotauro Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua and others during the Pride Era.
Not that long ago, Brazilians held four UFC belts simultaneously - in a time when there were only seven weight classes. That was just after the Octagon made its first trip to the South American country after 13 years away. UFC got huge in Brazil, and names like Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort were just as big as those of any other major celebrity.
Suddenly, champions started being dethroned, fighting as a foreigner in Brazil was not as intimidating as before and, as of a few months back, a lot of people were down on the country’s fighters. The Brazilian fighter roster began to look depleted. In 2016, Brazilians won 75 battles, and lost another 65.
In 2017, that is no longer reality.
At UFC 208 in Brooklyn, veterans Anderson Silva and Glover Teixeira returned to the win column, while Jacare Souza and Wilson Reis put themselves in great positions for a title shot later this year. And they are far from being the only ones who might put their hands on the gold sooner than later.
Looking at the female divisions, there is an actual chance of seeing Brazilian women reigning in each one of them at some point this year. While Amanda Nunes looked scary during defeats of Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, she will need to prove herself in a 5-round rematch against Valentina Shevchenko.
Meanwhile, one of the biggest stars in the history of women’s MMA, Cris Cyborg, is just waiting to have a shot at the newly crowned champion Germaine de Randamie, in an attempt to reclaim the top of a division she’s been ruling for more than a decade.
And there is also Jessica Andrade, the former Top 10 bantamweight who’s been dismantling the competition as a strawweight, making her way into the Top 5 in just over six months. At 25 years old, she owns arguably the most powerful pair of hands in the division, and will soon get a crack at one of the most dominant champions ever in the form of Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
“Women’s MMA is at its peak in Brazil,” UFC ambassador in Brazil and Hall of Famer Minotauro Nogueira said.
“Amanda Nunes is in her best moment, she’s confident and her power is respected in the division. Cris Cyborg is the best among women, alongside Amanda, but Cris is more experienced. And Jessica is a warrior; she switched divisions at the right time, found herself and if she gets the title shot, it’s well deserved.”
“We had a good start this year, winning around 80 percent of the fights. If we keep that pace, we’ll go toe to toe with the whole world,” --Minotauro Nogueira
When you look at the male divisions, the situation is just as promising. Former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is already scheduled for a rematch against reigning champion Stipe Miocic -- an adversary he has already beaten in the past -- and Jose Aldo is set to unify the featherweight titles against Max Holloway in Brazil. These are just the title fights that are already on calendar.
Who’s to say that the aforementioned Reis, Souza, Teixeira and Silva will not make enough impact to earn title shots during the 2017 campaign? Or that Demian Maia hasn’t already made it with his six straight wins, including the most recent demolition of former interim champion Carlos Condit in under two minutes? Or even that one of the current seven Brazilians ranked as Top 15 bantamweights -- that’s right, half the list -- won’t make their statements and earn a shot at the gold?
It is early in the 2017 schedule, and the Octagon will certainly see a lot of action throughout this course. But one thing is certain: Brazilian fans finally have reasons to be excited about the country’s prospects in the UFC, as 2017 is already providing.
“We had a good start this year, winning around 80 percent of the fights. If we keep that pace, we’ll go toe to toe with the whole world,” “Big Nog” said of the Brazilians’ resurgence in the win column, with many of the victories going to younger, rising stars.
“We have a nation of fighters, we’re solid in the sport. The new generation is coming, and what’s curious is that we have athletes who are just over 20 years old and a ton of experience in the Octagon already.”