If you're just getting into Mixed Martial Arts, the name Ricardo Arona might not mean much to you.
Perhaps you've heard of him a time or two, or remember that he was the fighter on the receiving end of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's famous "Pride Powerbomb."
But for those who have been paying attention for more than a minute, this weekend marks the return of a man once widely considered one of the best light heavyweights in the world from a two-year hiatus.
"The Brazilian Tiger" is back.
The former Pride superstar will make his return in Rio De Janeiro, fighting at the Bitetti Combat show against former UFC veteran Marvin "The Beastman" Eastman, his first career foray into a cage and the first time he's stood opposite an opponent since suffering an upset loss to Palelei Sokoudjou at the final Pride event, Pride 34.
While "The African Assassin" became an over-hyped addition to the UFC following the victory, Arona disappeared from the fighting world, focusing more on catching waves than a return to action.
Now, more than two years later, he's ready to return and talking about the future.
The 1999 winner of the Absolute Division at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships knows that a strong performance over Eastman will certainly merit attention from the major players, and welcomes such an opportunity (from Sherdog.com):
“I’ll wait for a proposal...Of course, I would love to fight in the UFC, because it’s for sure the best event, but I’m also studying some other proposals. I’m waiting calmly for my time. I’m ready to do my best in the ring or in the cage.”
But looking to the future in terms of where he fights isn't the only thing on Arona's mind. Despite a two-year hiatus from competition, "The Brazilian Tiger" is already taking aim at the best light heavyweight in the world, Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida:
“He’s a great champion, but if I’m well-trained, I know my potential; I can beat anyone.”
While some of that certainly has to be chalked up to self confidence and saying what is expected, an opportunity with the UFC certainly won't be the only offer on the table for a man with wins over the likes of Dan Henderson, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, Wanderlei Silva, and Alistair Overeem.
Though the UFC light heavyweight division clearly offers the greatest depth of talent, Strikeforce would certainly make sense in terms of immediate opportunity, as the company is currently without a serious contender to newly-crowned champion Gegard Mousasi.
More than two years after last competing at the highest level, Ricardo Arona will make his long-awaited return to the ring this weekend, looking to create opportunities for his fighting future.
But after that much time away, the question is whether we'll see "The Brazilian Tiger" of the past or a once-proud animal who has lost his fighting spirit?