Outside of the United States, Brazil has played host to more UFC events than any other nation on the planet.
Over the years, 13 cities have hosted a combined 37 events, with Rio de Janeiro leading the way and poised to welcome the first pay-per-view of 2023 in a couple weeks.
With that in mind, it feels like a good time to comb the archives for some of the most memorable fights and moments to transpire in the South American MMA hotbed, spotlighting some of the top UFC talent to emerge from the country at the same time.
Here are some of those memorable moments, in chronological order, for your enjoyment.
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami (UFC 134)
There is no way to really capture what a big deal this event was at the time.
UFC 134 was the first event in Brazil since 1998 and came at an incredibly cool moment when some of the country’s biggest stars and greatest legends were able to compete at home on the biggest stage in the sport, while a handful of young talents got to shine alongside their idols. The night was capped by what would turn out to be Silva’s penultimate successful middleweight title defense.
Okami had worked his way to the championship opportunity by amassing a 10-2 record inside the Octagon, including back-to-back wins over Mark Munoz and Nate Marquardt prior to facing Silva. But “The Spider” was in the midst of his unmatched run of success and the Japanese challenger didn’t stand a chance.
Silva dominated, propelled by the raucous crowd, flashing the magical skills that made him one of the greatest competitors ever. He cruised and looked spectacular doing so, and the UFC’s return to Brazil ended on an incredible high.
Edson Barboza vs. Terry Etim (UFC 142)
The way this fight ends feels like it was written for a Hollywood MMA movie, with Barboza cast as the underdog hero and Etim the villain. That wasn’t actually the case, of course, but it plays that way if you really think about it.
For the first two rounds, Barboza and Etim ran fairly level, neither man garnering a real advantage in their back-and-forth kickboxing match. Etim was the slightly bigger, more imposing figure, while Barboza was the young, ascending talent in need of a signature moment… and boy did he get it.
After nearly three minutes of continued give and take, Barboza attacked with what would become one of his signature combinations — a jab to the body, right hand up top, and a chopping kick to the quad — before taking a step back towards the center of the Octagon. Etim stepped forward, Barboza spun, and his foot slammed into the side of the Liverpool man’s head, ending the fight in a flash.
It was the kind of finishing sequence Hollywood would script for its David versus Goliath tale set in the world of MMA, only it was real, and it was incredible, and remains that way all these years later.
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes I (UFC 142)
Just as Silva closed out the UFC’s return to Brazil in impressive fashion, Aldo used his first opportunity to compete on home soil as UFC featherweight champion to deliver one of the most iconic moments of his legendary career.
Mendes was always expected to be Aldo’s first great rival — they ran parallel during their WEC days, with Aldo getting to the title ahead of the Team Alpha Male product, and remained the top two fighters in the division once it crossed over to the UFC. They finally met in Rio and Aldo showed why he sat upon the city’s throne.
In the waning moments of the opening stanza, Aldo finally broke Mendes’ grip around his waist, quickly spinning and blasting the challenger with a knee that landed flush and instantly ended the championship clash with just a single second remaining on the clock. But that wasn’t the iconic piece.
As soon as he landed the blow, Aldo scurried out of the cage and into the crowd, desperate to celebrate his victory with the people in the crowd, the people that had supported him throughout his journey, and made a point of attending his first UFC pay-per-view main event opportunity.
He’d bolted into the audience before, but this was different — this was a mob scene composed of elated Brazilians hoisting their latest hero aloft, and it was magical.
Demian Maia vs. Rick Story (UFC 153)
If anyone ever wonders “yeah, but how tight could somebody possibly squeeze in that position?” or something similar when watching a fighter trying to lock in a choke or crank on an opponent’s neck, show them this clip.
Maia was just one fight into his move to welterweight and coming off a victory over Dong Hyun Kim. Story had established himself as a Top 15 talent and was looking to build a little streak after getting back into the win column in his previous outing. But he made the mistake of getting tangled up with Maia on the canvas, and what followed was a moment that lands differently for everyone, depending on how squeamish you are.
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With Maia on Story’s back up against the fence, the Brazilian went hunting for a rear-naked choke, first clamping down across the American’s chin and beginning to squeeze, which is when the ribbons of blood started shooting out of Story’s nose.
Maia eventually finished the choke and secured the tap, but it’s the moment before that really stood out the most.
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes II (UFC 179)
A little over two-and-a-half years after their initially championship encounter, Aldo and Mendes ran it back.
Originally scheduled to take place in Los Angeles, an injury to the champion pushed the fight back a couple months, resulting in the duo returning to Rio, and this time, they combined for an absolute classic that doesn’t get the love it deserves these days.
It feels like the way folks remember each of these men has changed a great deal as a result of the worst stretches of their respective careers, but here’s the truth: for a number of years, they were the top two featherweights on the planet, with Aldo being the only man to beat Mendes, and Mendes being the only person to really push Aldo inside the Octagon.
While the end result says “unanimous decision” and the scores were 49-46 across the board, this fight was closer than both of those things imply. Mendes brought the absolute best out of Aldo this evening, and showed he was just a half-step behind the champion in that moment.
Regardless of where things went for each man after this encounter, this fight was each of them at their apex and remains a high quality rewatch.
Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correia (UFC 190)
This fight stands as a milestone in Rousey’s career, which is what made it a must for this list.
As much as she had been a dominant force in the Octagon and huge deal in the MMA world for years before this contest, it was the lead-up to this fight where she really started to cross over into the mainstream. This was peak Rousey, right after she won Best Fighter at the ESPY Awards, and non-MMA people were starting to get stuck in the magnetic pull of the UFC bantamweight champion.
Correia had played her cards perfectly to set up this opportunity, leaning all the way into having beaten two of Rousey’s closest friends, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler, in consecutive outings to push her record to 9-0. She lobbied for the chance to challenge the champion and Rousey obliged, venturing to Rio de Janeiro for the festivities.
As she’d done with just about everyone else before her, Rousey dispatched Correia swiftly and with ease, earning the victory in just 34 seconds to move to 12-0 for her career.
This was a sport-specific star becoming a global superstar.
Stipe Miocic vs. Fabricio Werdum (UFC 198)
In the spring of 2016, the UFC brought a pay-per-view stadium show to Curitiba, once again showcasing many of the top Brazilian stars in the promotion at the time on the bill.
Heading into the heavyweight championship main event, only one non-Brazilian (Bryan Barberena) had registered a victory, with national stars Shogun Rua, Cris Cyborg, and Jacare Souza all earning wins following Barberena’s unanimous decision victory over Warlley Alves. A successful title defense by Werdum would have been the perfect capstone to a tremendous evening for Brazilian fighters, but Miocic obviously had other ideas.
Just past the midway point of the opening round, Werdum looked to push forward and land against a retreating Miocic, who had run level with the champion to that point, and he ran into a clean right hand that ended his championship reign instead. Knowing Werdum was charging forward, Miocic backpedaled into space, but then planted his right foot into the canvas and fired out a right hand that landed flush and ended the fight.
“I’m the world champ! I’m the world champ!” Miocic exclaimed repeatedly while getting mobbed by his team outside the Octagon.
Indeed he was.
Jack Hermansson vs. Thales Leites (UFC 212)
This is one of those fights that when you remind people of it, they tend to go “Oh Yeah!” because it’s one of the gutsiest efforts in recent memory, but slips from the forefront because it occurred early in the night on a pay-per-view that didn’t resonate as a whole.
Hermansson suffered a nasty rib injury on a Leites takedown early in the fight. Seconds into the second round, Leites shoots for a takedown and Hermansson noticeably winces, with Jimmy Smith pointing it out on the broadcast. Leites worked into mount and latched onto an arm-triangle choke, which Hermansson was able to survive, and then in the third, the Scandinavian veteran showed just how much toughness he possesses.
Despite being in clear, obvious agony, Hermansson took the fight to the flagging Brazilian in the third. He attacked with his signature guillotine choke early in the final stanza before working free of an anaconda choke from Leites moments later. “The Joker” worked into top position, climbed into full mount, and fired off ground-and-pound, earning the incredible come-from-behind win.
He marched back to his corner wailing in pain, explaining after the bout that he broke his rib in the opening round and had never felt as much pain in his life. Just an absolutely incredible testament to Hermansson’s will and drive, and a terrific comeback victory.
Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo I (UFC 212)
When Max Holloway won the interim featherweight title at UFC 206, he knew that a clash with the division’s longtime ruler Jose Aldo would be next. It came six months later in Rio de Janeiro, and the Hawaiian approached it perfectly, framing it as a conqueror looking to prove his dominance by invading another king’s territory to claim it as his own.
And that’s exactly what he did.
The fight was close to start, but the longer it went, the more Holloway pulled away, ultimately earning the finish in the third round.
It was like he took the opening round to figure out that he not only belonged in the Octagon with the Brazilian legend, but that he was the superior talent as well. In the second, he tested the hypothesis, and when it was confirmed, he came out in the third and put it on Aldo, finishing him under a hail of unanswered blows.
This was a forcible changing of the guard and the moment Holloway’s standing as the top featherweight in the world was cemented.
Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas (UFC 237)
More than three years after the fact, this one still feels like one of those moments that I can’t believe happened in real life; it just remains such an improbable way for a championship to change hands.
Namajunas controlled the opening round with her jab and her footwork, piecing up Andrade while keeping the Brazilian challenger on the outside. Early in the second, Andrade worked to get inside and looked to elevate Namajunas for a slam, but she was forced to bail as the champion clamped onto a kimura trap.
But the fight remained in close quarters and the sequence repeated itself, with Andrade again looking for the slam and Namajunas again defending with a kimura trap. This time, the challenger hoisted her into the air and deposited her on her head, bringing the fight to a crashing, thudding halt.
Her reign wouldn’t last long, but her championship triumph remains one of the most memorable moments to take place when the Octagon was in Brazil.