Saturday Night, January 14, 2012, the octagon returned to Brazil, the “birthplace of mixed martial arts,” for only the second time in almost 14 years. The last time the Ultimate Fighting Championship came to Rio de Janeiro, a little less than five months ago, we were treated to some of the best Brazil had to offer as pound for pound king, Anderson Silva avenged the only loss of his career to Yushin Okami, and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua easily dispatched Ultimate Fighter Season One Winner, Forrest Griffin. UFC 134 set a high watermark for the quality of future shows in Rio, and UFC 142 did not disappoint. From top to bottom, I did not see one bad match on the show. Perhaps even more importantly for the future of the sport, while UFC 134 was centered around established stars coming home to Brazil, UFC 142 was about showcasing many of the hungry young lions that were being groomed for stardom. If this event was any indication of what the future holds for the UFC, it will not be long until the Brazilians are dominating the octagon . . . again!
Before I really get into a closer look at the young guns, I want to turn my attention to Vitor Belfort. Belfort, the lone legend on the show, came into his fight with Anthony “Rumble” Johnson with one thing on his mind, ruining Johnson’s middleweight debut and continuing to build his case for another shot at Anderson Silva. Vitor did just that, when he submitted Johnson in 4 minutes and 49 seconds of the first round. Although this fight was marred by the controversy surrounding Johnson’s inability to make weight, a problem that has since cost Johnson his spot in the UFC, Belfort was able to ignore the hoopla, keep his focus, and finish the fight. Next up for Belfort will be a rematch with fellow Brazilian, and the man he defeated in epic fashion at the first UFC event in Brazil back in 1998, Wanderlei Silva. While I have mixed feelings about Belfort receiving another Middleweight Title shot, if he is able to pull off an impressive win over Silva, it will only further strengthen his case.
Edson Barboza is a guy I have had my eye on since he made his octagon debut at UFC 123. Barboza has some of the best Muay Thai that I have seen in a long time at 155 lbs, and he put those skills on display as he defeated Terry Etim via KO with a spinning wheel kick at 2 minutes and 2 seconds of the 3rd round. Now I am a ground guy, I love the battle of human chess, and almost always find a well worked submission more exciting than a flash knock out. Having said that, Barboza’s spinning wheel kick was a thing of beauty and literally made my jaw drop. At only 25 years of age, and with a perfect record of 10 wins and no loses, Barboza looks primed to be a force in the lightweight division. I am going to have to see him against some higher level competition before I really jump on the bandwagon, but as of right now, I am a believer in Edson Barboza.
This is the section of my column where I should be raving about Erick Silva’s 29 second knock out of Carlo Prater, however I am unable to do thanks to referee Mario Yamasaki. In what has to be one of the worst calls I have seen in a while, and that is saying something with the state of refereeing in MMA, Yamasaki disqualified Silva for illegal blows to the back of the head. I have no idea what Yamasaki was thinking. After a number of slow motion replays, I saw only one shot that connected to the back of Prater’s head. Silva seemed very controlled in his frenzy and although his shots came hard and heavy, they seemed to be very well placed. What makes the matter even more frustrating is that even after Yamasaki was called out by Joe Rogan and shown the footage in slow motion, Yamasaki stood by his call. I can understand making a mistake in the heat of a fight, but by not admitting his error after being out of the moment, Yamasaki really lost credibility with me. Thankfully, Dana White has stated that the company will move forward in its booking of Erick Silva as if he was victorious and urged him to protest the decision. Despite this miscarriage of justice, Silva is a guy to watch at Welterweight going forward.
Although nowhere near as new to the octagon as before mentioned Edson Barboza and Erick Silva, Rousimar Palhares made a statement with his submission win over Mike Massenzio via heel hook at 1 minute and 3 seconds of the first round. Palhares may be the best leg submission artist in the game today, not just based on his skills but his freakish build. Palhares has actually been around the UFC since 2008 and at one point actually fought Dan Henderson to a decision. Although he lost that decision, his ability to hang with Henderson for 3 full rounds shows just how tough Palhares is. Unlike Barboza and Silva, who I believe should gradually test themselves against tougher competition, I think Palhares needs to move back to the deep waters sooner rather than later. The lay of the land at 185 lbs for 2012 is about to be determined when the UFC returns to Fox on January 28th. If Palhares can put himself in a position to get a fight with a contender later in the year, he could work his way into the title picture before the end of 2013.
Speaking of titles, that brings us to our Main Event of the evening as Jose Aldo Jr. successful defended his Featherweight Championship against Chad Mendes, knocking out his opponent with 1 second left in the first round. I have to admit, I thought this was going to be Mendes’ night. Aldo showed a vulnerability to wrestlers when he faced Mark Hominick, back at UFC 129. There is no doubt that Mendes is a much higher caliber wrestler than Hominick. Combine that with Aldo looking much more reserved in his fighting style since moving over to the UFC, and I thought it was the recipe for a new champion. I was wrong, Aldo showcased an improved takedown defense and was able to finally unleash some of the devastating strikes that made him the talk of the WEC. Jose Aldo proved once again why he is considered among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world with this performances. After the fight, Aldo immediately left the octagon to be among his people, in a scene that had to be seen to be believed. The fans of Rio swarmed their hero and then carried him back to the cage for the official decision.
Currently 3 of the UFC’s 7 Championship belts are held by Brazilians, and some people believe we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the talent in Brazil that is just waiting to be showcased. UFC 142 made a strong case that the future of the UFC may be very similar to its past. As the next generation of Brazilian mixed martial artists take the stage and showcase their skills, I can’t help but think back to UFC 1 and my amazement at what Royce Gracie was able to do. Unlike Gracie, this generation of Brazilian fighters brings a much more well rounded game to the cage than the legend ever did, but in much the same way as Royce did, their dedication to their country and their craft only serves to deepen the mystique of the Brazilian fighter.
Joe R. Beason