After visiting Brazil six times in the last two years to call UFC fights, former title contender and current UFC Tonight host Kenny Florian has a unique perspective on the UFC’s fastest growing market.
When people think of the UFC and Brazil, a couple of things probably come to mind, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—the fighting style that has helped change and define combat sports—and the pound-for-pound greatest UFC champion Anderson Silva.
But beyond BJJ and “The Spider” is a fanatical country that has embraced mixed martial arts and the UFC to the point where the sport is now number two in popularity, behind only soccer. The fan base is huge, the crowds are loud, and the fighters are some of the toughest and most passionate and innovative in the game.
Just look at the list of current UFC champions. There are now three Brazilian champions among the nine total divisions, including Middleweight Champ Anderson Silva, Featherweight Champ Jose Aldo, and Interim Bantamweight Champ Renan Barao. There’s also a growing list of contenders waiting in line, including heavyweight Junior dos Santos, light heavyweight Glover Teixeira, and middleweight Vitor Belfort.
With two Brazilian seasons of The Ultimate Fighter completed, the list of Brazilian fighters filling the UFC ranks is growing every day. And they’re good. At UFC on Fuel TV 10 in June, a Brazilian won every bout onthe card—going 12 for 12.
The fan support in Brazil is fueling their fighters. The crowds pack the arenas early in the night. The culture of soccer has helped create the same atmosphere that’s seen in the UFC today. The crowds get loud early, and stay that loud throughout the entire evening by chanting and singing. Have you ever seen a UFC crowd do the wave around an arena in the United States? They do it a lot in Brazil. Oftentimes, during the prelims, I can’t even hear my announcing partner Jon Anik because the crowd is so deafening—and that’s just the prelims.
The fans feed the fighters, and the Brazilian fighters know how to reward their fans. Remember Jose Aldo running into the crowd after his UFC 142 victory over Chad Mendes?
Besides the fame and fortune that can be made, Brazilians athletes are passionate and have a great attitude toward fighting. The diversity of the people in Brazil also adds to their competitive base, and their style of training is very different than the way fighters train in the United States or elsewhere around the world. In Brazil, mixed martial arts is just as important as a sport like football or baseball in the U.S. It used to be that you could easily spot Brazilian fighters. They had certain strengths, and it was very clear that they came from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background. That’s changed dramatically in the last few years.
Many of the top Brazilian fighters have come to the United States, learned different techniques, and returned back home to round out their own style of training. The powerhouse gym Nova Uniao, home of champions Jose Aldo and Renan Barao, integrates multiple disciplines into their training, including wrestling, counter-wrestling, and striking. They look like Muay Thai fighters, their BJJ is excellent, and they’re extremely well-trained and complete fighters. They’re redefining the term “mixed martial arts.” They are training and fighting like true professional athletes now—and their hunger and creativity is unbelievable. Looking at the different ways they pass guard and the way they’re coming up with new and revolutionary moves makes each fight a must-see event because we’re actually watching the sport evolve right before our eyes.
Brazilians are very proud of their roots and they carry them on their backs. Having the celebrated history that includes the pioneers of the UFC—the Gracie family—is a source of pride. But beyond the pride, Brazilian fighters have a ton of talent and incredible passion. They’re definitely here to stay.