Middleweight icon Anderson Silva didn’t mince any words. With an ear-to-ear smile on Wednesday, he declared that on Saturday night at Barclays Center, it may very well feel like Rio de Janeiro and not Brooklyn.
“This is the Brazilian team,” he said of the Fab Five that will represent the nation on the UFC 208 card. In addition to Silva, who faces Derek Brunson in the co-main event, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Glover Teixeira, Wilson Reis and Roan Carneiro will all fly the flag for a country that has long been producing elite mixed martial artists and just as many feverish fans.
“In Brazil, we're all fanatics,” said middleweight contender Souza, who battles Tim Boetsch. “It started in Brazil with the Gracie family, it's a very popular sport in Brazil and we believe it's going to keep growing. Even though we're a little upset with what's been going on with the Brazilian fighters, we still have so much love and passion for the sport.”
UFC championships used to be a formality for those from the South American country, with every division except welterweight, flyweight and strawweight boasting at least one Brazilian titleholder over the 23-plus year history of the UFC. But today, only Jose Aldo and Amanda Nunes wear UFC gold, and it’s a situation a hungry group of veterans and rising stars want to rectify as soon as possible. There will be no titles on the line for Brazilian fighters this weekend, but a quintet of wins would be a good start to their 2017 campaign.
“For me, the best situation is if all the Brazilian guys win,” Silva said. “I know it's a fight and you have half a chance and your opponent has half a chance, but I'm very excited and I'm very happy because all the fighters fighting on Saturday are working hard for the fans. I respect everybody and I say God bless all the fighters and let's go work.”
“I have a good friendship with the Brazilian guys fighting on the card, they’re great guys, and of course if you’re a Brazilian you have to root for Anderson Silva,” adds Teixeira, who faces Jared Cannonier. “It’s one of those things where he’s our idol of the sport, so hopefully we all come through with the victory. It’s positive energy, I love those guys and I’m rooting for them.”
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It’s a notable situation because you rarely, if ever, see this among the fighters from any other country. Wednesday didn’t see the United States contingent standing together as Team USA. But the Brazilians, that’s a whole different story.
“Sometimes the Brazilian guys train together and are in jiu-jitsu tournaments and different MMA events in Brazil, and we have a real relationship,” Silva said. “This is the Brazilian energy.”
“I fought before in Brazil with a lot of Brazilian fighters on the same card, and it's always good fighting with fellow Brazilians on the same card,” Souza agrees. “It's good to be together and being around each other for everything. So it's all good.”
But does having this team mentality mean anything when the Octagon door shuts? According to Josuel Distak, a longtime friend and coach of Silva and Souza, it does. And not just for the fighters.
“It's like Brazil against the world,” he said “It's so important because all the Brazilians are training together, you have ‘Jacare’ and Anderson training together, and I think these fights are so important, not just for Anderson and ‘Jacare’ or any fighter, but for Brazil. We think Brazil will be the winner Saturday night. Like Anderson says, when all the guys are together, nobody can beat us. In Brazil, I think it's important for the people to believe in themselves. When Anderson says we are Team Brazil, it's not for the fights. It's for the new generation that is coming.”
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