UFC Rio was a milestone in Mixed Martial Arts and a sign that the sport is set to grow far beyond the level it has reached now. I have been watching MMA for 6 years now. It is something that is now officially a part of my life, and I have yet to see an MMA event with the palpable emotion that UFC Rio had and I didn’t even watch it live! A mix of MMA history and great outcomes to the fights signaled the beginning of a new stage in MMA around the world and here is why.
UFC Rio had deep historical connotations as the spiritual homeland of MMA is in Brazil. Royce Gracie was the first Champion of the UFC and his brothers were integral is setting the event up in the first place. The Gracie’s had developed their own system of Judo now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which played a large role in the evolution of MMA and combat training in general. Brazil has a history of Vale Tudo (meaning anything goes) similar but even more basic than MMA’s limited rule set (Vale Tudo has no gloves, nor any rules whatsoever, other than the gentlemanly rules of no groin strikes, eye gouging or biting) that dates back to the early 20th century. For the UFC to hold a massive event here is a long time coming. Although the event took place in a 12,000 seat stadium, there were 350,000 people looking for tickets online! The UFC has already announced that it would be holding a future Brazil event in Amazona, Brazil in a stadium with a seating capacity of 100,000! The UFC’s return to Brazil (They came once before in the late 90’s) signifies a new era in global expansion.
The top fighters in UFC Rio’s card have been sponsored by Burger King, Nike and Brazils Top Soccer teams. This is some of the highest and most mainstream sponsors that fighters have gotten and like GSP’s contract with Gatorade and Under Armour, is signifying a new era in MMA.
Finally, the Brazil vs. the world concept had the whole crowd very emotionally involved in the fights. Now anyone with any experience with Brazilian people knows that Brazilians are very emotional people and they have no problem showing it. To have an entire UFC where your nations pride is at stake not in kicking a ball around but in proper fights is enough to put any country’s fans into an emotional fervor. When Minatauro knocked out Brendan Schaub I have never, I mean NEVER seen a crowd react like that before. That was the type of thing I see in old film and pictures of cheering public welcoming home the troops from WWII, I could feel the intensity of the joy that the crowd was feeling. When Anderson Silva won as well in the final match up of the night, it wasn’t only Anderson Silva that was getting the cheers from the crowd, it was the nation of Brazil. Each fight was like a penalty kick, with the end result being the win or lose situation for that country and in this case Brazil won and it won handily.
I personally went to UFC in Abu Dhabi and although that was a historic event in itself just as UFC Rio was, the fights did not bouy the milestone event and it turned out to be not as significant as it could have been. Secondly, the UAE does not have the level of fighters to compete on behalf of their country as Brazil does and so the local polulation did not have too much emotional investment in the fighters. This could be seen actually by the fact that about 80% or more of the crowd was non Arab. The “Host Country” vs. The World concept is a surefire winner for the UFC once MMA becomes established worldwide and top level fighters start to emerge from everywhere, not just certain pockets.
To frame future events such in this “Host Country vs. The World format will make MMA the biggest sport in the world. It will surpass football (soccer) it will surpass basketball, it will surpass everything if UFC Rio is in any way a harbinger of what is to come.