The Ultimate Fighter
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Home to iconic fighters and diehard fans, Brazil has always been the spiritual home of mixed martial arts, and from Gracie to Nunes, the history of the nation in the sport is intertwined with the history of the UFC as well. And though it’s difficult to narrow it all down for a list like this, here are ten of the top Brazilian moments in UFC history.
Gracie wins first UFC tournament
On paper, Royce Gracie never had a chance. In reality, it was the rest of the field in the first UFC tournament on Nov. 12, 1993 that didn’t have a chance against the skinny kid in the gi who used the then-mysterious style of jiu-jitsu to submit Art Jimmerson, Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau in one night. On that night, a sport and the legend of Brazil’s Gracie were born.
Vitor Belfort Debuts
By the time UFC 12 rolled around, fans of the growing sport had seen jiu-jitsu masters, world-class wrestlers, and crude brawlers in the Octagon. They never saw anything like Vitor Belfort. Just 19 years old, the teenager from Rio de Janeiro blasted through Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozo in a combined two minutes with blazing fast hands that would leave opponents baffled and beaten for years. Sure, “The Phenom” went on to great things in the ensuing years, but it was something to see him as a teenager in those early days.
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Anderson Silva Debuts
The arrival of Anderson Silva to the UFC in 2006 was greeted with excitement, but also a bit of mystery, as he was revered by the hardcore fans but largely unknown to the U.S. fan base. But on Jun. 28, it took the “Spider” just 49 seconds to introduce himself, as he knocked out steel-chinned Chris Leben with relative ease. After the fight, I asked him how he developed his otherworldly striking. He grinned. “I’m one of the X-Men.”
Nogueira Wins Heavyweight Title
If Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira never fought in the UFC, his run in Japan’s PRIDE promotion would have been enough to list him as one of the greatest heavyweights ever. But Nogueira wasn’t done after his PRIDE days, and at UFC 81 in February 2008, his second UFC win earned him the interim UFC heavyweight title as he scored a come from behind submission win over Tim Sylvia. And not surprisingly, “Minotauro” had the last word in more ways than one when he said, “I played his game for almost three rounds. He played my game for two minutes and I won the fight.”
After a fierce war of words and four one-sided rounds, Anderson Silva was about to lose the middleweight title he had successfully defended six times to heated rival Chael Sonnen in the main event of UFC 117 in Oakland. But in the fifth and final round, Silva finally found the opening he needed and he clamped on the hold that forced Sonnen to tap out with less than two minutes remaining. It was the most significant win of a great fighter’s career, as he proved that when he was the nail and not the hammer, he could still win.
The Return to Brazil
The UFC’s first show in Brazil took place in 1998, and while it featured two championship bouts in which Frank Shamrock and Pat Miletich emerged victorious and also saw Brazilian stars Vitor Belfort and Pedro Rizzo score big knockout wins over Wanderlei Silva and Tank Abbott, respectively, it would be nearly 13 years before the Octagon returned to the spiritual home of MMA. But in August 2011, UFC 134 thrilled a packed house at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, and in the 11 bouts featuring a Brazil native, Brazilians won 10 of them. Big winners that night were the legends of the game: Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua and Minotauro Nogueira.
JDS Wins the Heavyweight Title
A week before one of the greatest fights in MMA history between Shogun Rua and Dan Henderson, the sport was changed forever when Junior Dos Santos’ challenge for Cain Velasquez’ heavyweight title was aired in prime time on FOX. Yet one of the most highly-anticipated fights in years ended in just 64 seconds, as Dos Santos stopped Velasquez and took his title in a shocking result that brought in a whole new fan base eager to see what mixed martial arts was all about.
One of the most revered fighters to ever emerge from Brazil is Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and for good reason. A former UFC light heavyweight champion and PRIDE Grand Prix winner, Rua has fought everyone put in front of him and, win or lose, he always shows up in search of a finish. But it was a distance fight he lost that will never be forgotten. At UFC 139 in November 2011, Rua faced Dan Henderson in a diehard fight fans’ dream bout. And for 25 minutes, the two not only lived up to expectations, but exceeded them, with a back and forth action fight for the ages. Henderson got the decision when it was over, but if any fight had no losers, it was this one.
Aldo Beats Mendes, Celebrates with Fans
Chad Mendes was supposed to be the toughest test of Jose Aldo’s career. But when the featherweight champion stopped Mendes in the first round of their UFC 142 main event in January 2012, Aldo was overcome by excitement after his monumental win, and the only fitting way for him to celebrate was by leaving the Octagon and joining his fans in the crowd. It wasn’t an ideal situation for security, but no one who saw this moment will ever forget it.
Amanda Nunes over Ronda Rousey
It had to be a fluke, right? Ronda Rousey was unbeaten for so long that few could believe that she suffered her first loss in 2015 to Holly Holm. That meant that when “Rowdy” Ronda returned in December 2016, she was going to walk through Amanda Nunes and reclaim her bantamweight title. Nunes had other ideas, and in the main event of UFC 207, “The Lioness” successfully defended her title with a 48-second stoppage of Rousey that cemented the Brazilian’s place at the top of the 135-pound division and kept her country in the headlines of the sports world.