It all came down to the final bout. Going into the main event at UFC on FX 7, Brazilian fighters were 3-3 against foreign opponents. With a rabid crowd at the Ibirapuera Arena in Sao Paulo cheering him on, it was up to Vitor Belfort to win one more for the home team.
Of course, much more was at stake in his main-event bout with Michael Bisping. With a win, the "Count" could have earned a title shot against middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Instead, Belfort's left leg sent the Brit plummeting to the mat, ending his dream of competing for UFC gold.
Belfort wasn't the only winner on Saturday night's card. Despite a slow start on the prelims, several other fighters left the show in a stronger position with the UFC brass and fans.
That's the funny thing about the fight game. Although wins and losses are carefully tracked, sometimes a fighter can win a fight on paper, but lose in the hearts and minds of everyone who matters. So, too, can a loser win big by capturing the fans' imagination with a stirring performance.
So who were the real winners and losers the night? Let's explore. For those looking for a list of results only, click ahead to the final slide.
Poor Michael Bisping. Three times, he's been within shouting distance of a UFC title shot; three times, he's been beaten before he could fight for the big prize.
First, Dan Henderson knocked the bad look off his face at UFC 100. Then Chael Sonnen won a close decision in Chicago on Fox. Saturday night, in his home country of Brazil, Vitor Belfort stole away a title shot with a left high kick to the head.
What's next for Bisping is unknown. At 33, the Brit's career may have peaked. He may be destined to ply his trade just below the top of the pack—a guy who is good enough to fight anyone in the world, but not quite good enough to beat the best.
Vitor Belfort. God not pictured.
Vitor Belfort credited God with his victory. Some might quibble with that a bit, preferring to give props to Belfort's left leg. That's the appendage, after all, that knocked Michael Bisping silly.
But Belfort credits his faith for all his accomplishments—and who are we to doubt? Whether you believe or not, there seems no question Belfort does, and it drives him to success.
Faith, or lack thereof, inserted itself in the narrative of this fight at the weigh-ins the day prior to the contest. It was there that Bisping told the famously religious Belfort that "Jesus isn't real."
Bisping, trying to get in Belfort's head, got the last word that day. Belfort got the last laugh.
I wasn't expecting much from this co-main event. After all, Dollaway is pretty well-established as an average fighter and Sarafian was making his official UFC debut after injuring himself before the TUF Brazil finale. Not usually the recipe for entertainment success.
Somehow, the two met in the middle, in a place between inexperience and ineptitude, perfectly matched for an incredible fight.
It wasn't always pretty. Sarafian was exhausted by the second round, allowing Dollaway to nearly finish the fight. The two were tied going into the final round, a round two of the three judges saw for Dollaway, much to the chagrin of a furious Brazilian crowd.
Sarafian may have lost his debut, but he showed some potential against a veteran of the game. It will be fun to see who he's matched up with next. It won't likely be a co-main event—but Sarafian's shown he belongs in the cage with a real UFC fighter.
Rothwell was a double loser of the card. His opponent, Gabriel Gonzaga, looked slow and awful. But at least he walked away with a win.
Rothwell didn't just lose a fight that doubled as a remedy for insomnia. He also looked finished. Done.
Gonzaga landed a string of right hands, each moving in what appeared to be slow motion. Each landing square on the button. The idea of moving? Blocking? Countering? It never seemed to occur to Rothwell.
Once a fringe contender, Rothwell's days as a UFC-level fighter appear to be numbered, and that, friends, is the hardest loss of all—the loss of your livelihood.
"If Sambo Was Easy, It Would Be Called Jiu-Jitsu."
It takes a brave man to wear that T-shirt into the home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. But anyone can talk a good game. What makes Khabib Nurmagomedov a winner on the night is how emphatically he backed up his noise with action.
He clipped jiu-jitsu ace Thiago Tavares with a lunging left, and then, it was like a pack of wolves descended. Elbow after elbow landed, referee Dan Miragliotta seemingly watching the slaughter rather than, you know, stopping it.
Finally, he intervened and Nurmagomedov walked out, the same smile plastered on his face he had at the weigh-ins. If he keeps it up too much longer, I might have to go ahead and internalize the spelling of his cumbersome last name. That, more than any T-shirt or knockout, will be a clear sign he's made it.
First there was Pedro Nobre, just a few weeks too late for an Oscar nod, faking an injury from phantom strikes to the head against Yuri Alcantara in order to go home with a no contest rather than a loss.
Then Lucas Martins, who, according to Internet buzz is a promising prospect, tapped out to strikes on the ground against Edson Barboza. Understandable for you or me, but a scarlet letter in the macho world of professional MMA.
Finally, there was Ronny Markes. His corner was heard clearly instructing him to coast in the final round against Andrew Craig. That's strategic and smart—but not very brave.
A lot was missing in the preliminaries of the UFC's return to Brazil. Action and excitement were at the top of that list, as most of the fights were complete snoozers. But heart and fighting spirit followed not too far behind, shockingly absent despite a collection of some of the world's toughest men.
You can get away with those corn rows if you are the bassist for a '90s Nu Metal band.
As a UFC fighter in 2013?
I don't think it works.
It doesn't work for Urijah Faber, though my wife begs to differ. It didn't work for the late Evan Tanner. And it doesn't work for Andrew Craig.
Poor Diego Nunes.
Between rounds against Nik Lentz, he looked like a kid who had just lost his lunch money. Little Lentz spent three rounds on top of him and just wouldn't get off. Nunes appeared near tears at time, frustrated that his opponent wouldn't let him stand up and fight.
It had to be embarrassing for the 30-year-old Nunes, competing in Brazil for the first time since making it in the WEC all the way back in 2008. This couldn't have been the way he envisioned it, lying underneath Lentz for three rounds, being wet-blanketed by a superior wrestler for 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, Lentz didn't come out a winner anywhere but a fighter database. He brought the Brazilian crowd, previously at a fever pitch, to an uncomfortable silence, inspiring tweets like this one:
— MMA Supremacy (@MMASupremacy) January 20, 2013
A win is a win. But that win? It's the kind that sees you right back in the prelims in your next bout.
You can forgive some fans for giving up on Edson Barboza. One of the hottest prospects in the sport, his loss last year to a returning and unheralded Jamie Varner sent many scurrying off the hype train.
Make room for them to pile back on.
Barboza made short work of Lucas Martins, another prospect whom many in the MMA community were building up in the days before the fight. And, like that, Barboza once again seems on a collision course with the UFC lightweight champion.
How to put this delicately? C.J. Keith accidentally showed his dong at the weigh-ins. Unfortunately for him, that wasn't the low point of the weekend.
That was perhaps when Francisco Trinaldo dumped him right on his head with an incredible high amplitude suplex. Or maybe when Trinaldo choked him out with an arm triangle while still in half guard? There are, sadly enough, too many indignities to chose just one.
None of it was good for Mr. Keith, who may find himself on the UFC chopping block.
-Vitor Belfort defeats Michael Bisping via TKO at 1:27 or Round 2
-C.B. Dollaway defeats Daniel Sarafian via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
-Gabriel Gonzaga defeats Ben Rothwell via submission at 1:01 of Round 2
-Khabib Nurmagomedov defeats Thiago Tavares via TKO at 1:55 of Round 1
-Godofredo Castro defeats Milton Vieira via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
-Ronny Markes defeats Andrew Craig via unanimous decision (29-28 x 3)
-Nik Lentz defeats Diego Nunes via unanimous decision (30-28, 30-27, 30-26)
-Edson Barboza defeats Lucas Martins via submission at 2:38 of Round 1
-Yuri Alcantara vs Pedro Nobre no contest due to accidental foul at 2:11 of Round 1
-Ildemar Alcantara defeats Wagner Prado via submission at 2:39 of Round 2
-Francisco Trinaldo defeats C.J. Keith via submission at 1:50 of Round 2