Tonight marks something of a landmark for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, as they will be making a second trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for a UFC event under the Zuffa banner for UFC 142 at the HSBC Arena.
If the venue sounds familiar, that's because it hosted UFC 134 back in August, and UFC 134 was one of the most successful events of that year in terms of all the attention and hype it received. So despite the injuries, the card is still expected to be a good showing of what the Brazilian market has to offer the MMA world in the main stream of things.
It's an international affair with quite a few things to take into account as we prep for the UFC's return to Rio. With that comes 15 sober truths from a fight-drunk Combat Sports connoisseur that you and yours might want to consider for UFC 142: Aldo vs. Mendes!
You might think that an attendance of 14,000 people, one Brazilian losing to a non-Brazilian and only 325,000 PPV buys would not make for a successful event. But if you think that's unsuccessful, you haven't seen UFC 134.
That was the UFC's return to Brazil (first trip under the Zuffa banner) and it brought out the fighting spirit of Brazil in more ways than one. The fact that Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Anderson Silva walked out with wins only put an exclamation point on the success of the UFC's return home, to what some might say was the spiritual home of MMA.
Brazil proved to be a very warm site for the largest MMA organization in the world. However, fans as well as some pundits agreed that despite what the numbers said, the UFC 134 event was all boom and no bust. It was successful for not only the UFC, but for MMA in general and the Brazilian MMA.
The card featured established UFC veterans, WEC veterans, local prospects and world-renowned legends before the main event of the night. That's exactly what we can expect from the UFC's second trip to Rio under the Zuffa banner.
Local prospects like Ednaldo Oliveira, established veterans like Ricardo Funch and Thiago Tavares and the undefeated Edson Barboza, among other Brazilian talent, will be featured on the card before the Featherweights take center stage for the main event. They are also before the co-headliner Vitor Belfort's welcoming of Anthony Johnson to the UFC Middleweight division.
No matter what the numbers try to say in the long run, fans of great MMA action can expect to see another great night of fights in Rio de Janeiro.
We could have gone on for days saying how much it means to the Brazilian fighters on the card to fight on the card. But historically speaking, some of the best in the world have stepped out to represent their country for international events, and Brazil is no exception.
Vitor Belfort co-headlines this card. He was on commentary for UFC 134 and easily got offered a chance to fight at home after his win over Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Junior Dos Santos is neither fighting nor commentating tonight, but he will be cornering Ednaldo Oliveira in his bout with Gabriel Gonzaga, who is all too familiar with Dos Santos from personal experience.
Of course, Jose Aldo takes center stage in what will be the first event since the UFC/WEC merger to be headlined by the champion and number-one contender of the 145-lb. division. Many stars, including Paula Sack, are expected to turn out for this monumental event.
See? International cards aren't limited to the dudes throwing down!
What comes next after the spiritual home of MMA?
Only the birthplace of the martial arts, a little country known as "The Land of The Rising Sun."
UFC 144 is the next card to feature talent representing the best of the best from the country hosting the event. It seems like a breath of fresh air to hear of Japanese talent fighting in front of their home crowd while still being under UFC contract.
After UFC 144 comes the UFC on FX 2 card, which is slated to feature Australian-bred Kyle Noke and Anthony Perosh, as well as New Zealander James Te-Huna and the inaugural UFC Flyweight Title tournament.
Thiago Alves and Martin Kampmann headline that card. After that comes UFC 145 in Montreal, which will feature Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills and a yet to be announced headliner.
This will be followed by the UFC's debut in Sweden on Fuel TV, which will feature the best of Scandinavian MMA and be headlined by Alexander Gustafsson's biggest test to date, opposite Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
The UFC's going international in 2012. Trust me when I say that it's going to be pretty sweet to see how it all plays out in the months to come.
Did you forget the other thing surrounding Vitor Belfort leading up to tonight?
He coaches the very first all-Brazilian season of The Ultimate Fighter, featuring Featherweights and Middleweights, opposite Wanderlei Silva. Both men will rematch each other at a yet to be named PPV event, which will also feature the finals of the Featherweight and Middleweight season tournaments.
That fight with Vitor will be Wanderlei's first fight in Brazil since the last time he fought Vitor. But tonight is the first time since the last fight with Wanderlei that Vitor has fought in Brazil.
Having Vitor on this card in a fighting capacity can only help the UFC's quest to expand into the Brazilian market. Vitor is not only a legend in the sport, he's also still major enough of a draw to get fans of all types attracted to the event.
With what he can do in a fight, it makes it much more interesting to ponder what kind of coach he could be to a group of young hungry lions on their way up.
Last week was Strikeforce. Rockhold versus Jardine was arguably one of the most predictable cards in recent memory, and some would like to think 2012 got off to a perfect start.
Whether it did or not is your prerogative, but now it's the UFC's turn to get their year off and running successfully.
The card has been hit with injuries to Rob Broughton, Siyar Bahadurzada, Paulo Thiago, Caio Magalhaes and Fabio Maldonado. It's also been hit with the apparent visa problems of Stanislav Nedkov and Anthony Johnson missing weight by about 11-12 pounds.
Despite all this, the card is still seen as a card that has the potential to be an enjoyable, even if it's not the best start to any year for the UFC.
What follows the preceding query is a look at the fight card itself in bout-by-bout format, so feel free to look at the fights on this card and judge accordingly.
Antonio Carvalho scored a big knockout in 2010 over Juan Barrantes and recorded the only win over his 2011 campaign against Doug Evans, so that he was UFC bound was academic.
That KO power will travel along with the rest of Carvalho's 17-4 record to Rio, where he will face one-fight UFC veteran Felipe Arantes.
Arantes put on a highly entertaining bout with Yuri Alcantara at UFC 134. His performance did not disappoint, despite coming out with a loss, and he hopes that another solid performance will lead him to a win against a star on the rise in Carvalho.
But Carvalho definitely wants to ensure that his UFC debut is ushered in in devastating fashion.
Don't call it "overlooking," but Mike Pyle doesn't see Ricardo "Golden Boy" Funch becoming the latest prospect to own a victory at his expense.
He's determined to make sure that Funch, 0-2 in the UFC as it is and 8-2 overall (with his unsuccessful first UFC stint consisting of the only two losses of his pro career), leaves UFC 142 without a win. Funch will not go down easily, one can guarantee that.
The only problem for Pyle is that Funch doesn't possess the same exact tools or the same ways to win as Thiago does. Pyle needs to be prepared for everything but the kitchen sink.
Both Funch and Pyle successfully made weight. Funch actually did not show any unique hairstyle when weighing in, but just as Pyle has to prepare for a more well-rounded Funch, Funch has to do what he can to overcome his first fight back against a determined Pyle.
At least for right now, Michihiro Omigawa is probably the biggest name that Yuri Alcantara has fought. The skills of the Judoka prove that statement pretty well if you've paid attention to them recently.
Omigawa has always been a fighter to watch because of his boxing and his Judo expertise, which has helped him become one of the top Featherweights in the sport. It's easy to see why he'd be a reasonable second fight for Alcantara to contend with.
Alcantara, meanwhile, has his own repertoire of offense which includes a good set of takedowns and some budding striking. There's no question that Alcantara will be looking to rise to the challenge of Omigawa in all facets of the game, including the striking aspect where he will want to find a way to outclass Omigawa.
Easier said than done, but that's what many said about Alcantara in his past twelve bouts, and look where it's gotten him.
Now imagine if Alcantara can create the same successful outcome against Omigawa.
Easier said than done, but it can be done.
Ednaldo Oliveira has finished ten opponents. Eight of those wins came in the form of knockout, so don't for a second think that Gabriel Gonzaga is going to run through.
Oliveira is a solid foe for Gonzaga in terms of his stand up and submission game. Gonzaga's own blend of Muay Thai and BJJ are every bit as lethal as they were the last time "Napao" was in the Octagon. Thus this Heavyweight bout has its reasons to not disappoint.
Oliveira will look to deliver a superb effort in his Octagon debut, no doubt. But most eyes will be on the familiar Gonzaga and many will be anxious to see how the one-time title contender has evolved since his last time out in the UFC.
MMA fans who have not seen Oliveira would be wise to pay attention to him. He is a training partner of the UFC Heavyweight Champion, Junior Dos Santos, and clearly has had an impressive enough run throughout his career so far.
Oliveira has won 13 fights and drawn once with one no contest. Joe Silva thought him worthy enough to take on originally-scheduled opponent Rob Broughton.
Gonzaga is likely a better test and a more well-rounded opponent than Broughton, and therefore can test Oliveira in areas that others never could. But what will Gonzaga's return mean when he has to welcome an opponent with such a tremendous reach to the UFC?
Sam Stout has fought a good portion of his career with the services of his brother-in-law Shawn Tompkins in his corner. UFC 142 will be a night of firsts in its own right, and one of those firsts involves Stout.
For starters, it's Stout's first pro bout to come in Brazil and it's the first time he's facing a well-rounded fighter named Thiago Tavares. Although it's a homecoming for Tavares, the 17-6-1 Canadian will remember this fight because he will have a Jiu-Jitsu coach and Mark Hominick in his corner, but no Shawn Tompkins.
Tompkins will probably have the best seat in the house that night, but where will Stout's head be at?
Will he be able to stop Tavares, who Stout feels is "very explosive, aggressive and has very good cardio," or will Stout be subject to a similar fate to that which Mark Hominick encountered at UFC 140?
The last time a Brit fought Edson Barboza, it was Ultimate Fighter 9 Lightweight winner Ross Pearson. While that fight won Fight of The Night, it was a close split-decision win for the Brazilian in his home country.
Now, Barboza gets to do it all again. Only this time, he draws a submission specialist with his own solid display of technical Muay Thai in Terry Etim.
Etim's style is always a crowd-pleaser that keeps fans awake whenever the fight is on the feet, but some feel it will take a submission exhibition to put Barboza in any sort of danger.
Etim submitted Edward Faaloloto in 17 seconds to return to the UFC, but can he do it to Barboza when it counts? If not, is he prepared to scrap with the striking machine?
Stranger things have happened in the Octagon before. One of the strange things that might happen could easily be a Terry Etim that outstrikes Barboza and outpoints him.
It's going to be a feat in and of itself to accomplish against Barboza, but it's a possibility.
Carlo Prater has won four of his past five bouts by submission, with one of those four being a technical submission win. He's 40 fights deep into his career.
His UFC debut comes against Erick Silva, who will be his 41st opponent. Silva came in as a replacement for Siyar Bahadurzada, who now faces Paulo Thiago at the UFC: Sweden card.
If one thing was going to be an X-factor in the bout, it might be the late replacement issue. For Silva, that could either work for him in an effort to defeat Prater, or it could mean Prater exposes Silva as the inexperienced prospect that Prater believes he is.
Will the replacement of Bahadurzada with Prater prove to hinder Silva's rise to prominence in the Welterweight division, or will it only prove to be another obstacle that Silva faces head on and conquers?
If UFC 134 was any indication, Silva should have no problem being up to the task of finding a way to blast through a competitor such as Prater.
On one hand, Mike Massenzio's starting to come into his own as a fighter. He finally found himself on the winning track in a hard-fought win over Steve Cantwell at UFC 136 in Houston. To say Massenzio has greatly improved is an understatement.
On the other hand, Massenzio now has to put his striking, wrestling and grappling up against Rousimar Palhares, who is a Jiu-Jitsu master first but is game enough to stand and bang whenever he sees fit.
This fight might actually be better than anyone thinks because Massenzio is a good wrestler in his own right. He is a man with experience in Grappler's Quest, and he'll be putting that up against a Brazilian with some possibly the scariest Jiu-Jitsu in the Middleweight division.
Provided Massenzio comes to actually fight Palhares, and it's doubtful that Massenzio would do anything but bring it to Palhares, this fight could possibly wind up being one of the most underrated fights of the year.
How many times did we see Anthony "Rumble" Johnson in the UFC Welterweight division? Even in victory, how many times did we say that Johnson was still a pretty big Welterweight?
He's moving up to Middleweight (but weighed in at 197 pounds and cannot weigh in on fight day at more than 205 pounds) to face Vitor Belfort and will look like a huge Middleweight when he does.
Still, some like his odds against Belfort considering his KO power and size.
Meanwhile, Belfort has been putting in work throughout his training camp. He's been showing much in the way of determination towards not only beating Johnson, but beating him badly on Brazilian soil in what will be Johnson's Middleweight debut.
Then again, there's always Rumble's wrestling...but that didn't go over so well the last time he fought a dude with knockout power.
Remember that Dan Hardy fight?
I rest my case.
Now here's hoping Johnson has found a way to let his own fists rest on Belfort's chin, for his sake. If he can't beat Belfort at his heavy weight, tonight could be the last time we ever see Johnson inside the Octagon.
This is what we've been waiting for since the WEC days, and tonight, we're finally going to get it.
The champion and the challenger have assured fans that, as this event will actually be going on in the middle of the night in Brazil, they will be fully prepared for this event physically and mentally.
Mendes has his athleticism and his strength to go with his wrestling. He's been working with Team Alpha Male cohort Urijah Faber on preparing for Aldo's leg kicks. However, he has never faced anyone with the insane head and body movement of Aldo, nor has he faced anyone with the striking of the UFC Featherweight Champion.
Mendes will have to answer questions about how well his stand up has developed. In the same way, Aldo will have to answer questions about how well he can handle a relentless wrestler with the smothering top control that Mendes implements better than anyone else.
The last time a man put Aldo on his back for an entire round, he took the round but lost a Fight of The Year candidate to the Brazilian.
If Mendes can take Aldo down without a struggle, (maybe with an Aldo knee to his face, or an Aldo uppercut in the same way Aldo knocked Manny Gamburyan out), it will be interesting to see how long Mendes can keep Aldo grounded without risking his neck or a limb.
Aldo hasn't really submitted anyone since his third pro fight, but when a champ defends his title on his home turf, he can make some crazy things happen. It could happen tonight in Rio at the expense of another Team Alpha Male product.