If MMA can be said to have a birthplace, a singular point of origin on a map of the world, that place must undoubtedly be Brazil.
Long before the bright lights and big stars of the modern era, brutal, unregulated Vale Tudo fights—contested bare-knuckle in carnival tents throughout the Brazillian countryside—were the breeding ground of modern MMA.
The famous “Gracie Challenge” issued by practitioners of Gracie BJJ to other martial artists was the progenitor of today's UFC.
So with the recent confirmation from Dana White that the UFC is planning a show in Rio De Janerio for 2011—the first UFC event in the country of Brazil in over a decade—it can safely be said that the sport of MMA is coming home.
While the economy of Brazil is currently surging, it is still a relatively poor nation overall. The recent landslides have been an added strain on the populace.
If the UFC wants to convince Brazilians to shell out to live event in the numbers, they need to make the trip profitable and provide an absolutely stacked card.
Luckily, with the UFC roster overflowing with talented Brazilian fighters in every weight class, putting on a big card with a local flavour will be no problem.
Without further ado, here is my dream card for “Ultimate Rio”—one that maximizes hometown appeal, big-time fights and casual (read: pay-per-view) fan appeal.
For almost half a decade now, the UFC has tried to figure out how to market a Yushin Okami title fight.
Always a staple of the top-five MW rankings, Okami always seemed one win removed from his shot—or he was passed over entirely in favour of someone more marketable (read: American).
With his recent victory over Nate Marquardt and his reinvention as a more aggressive striker, Okami’s world title shot can no longer be denied.
Luckily, this card is the perfect venue for Okami to get his long awaited shot at the gold.
Anderson Silva is the most dominant champion in MMA history, fighting at long last in his home and native land.
It won’t matter one bit who he’s facing as far as the live gate numbers are concerned, and on pay-per-view Anderson has always been a mediocre draw without a strong co-main event to prop him up, which he’ll have here.
If GSP vs. Shields is a strong enough main event to sell out 60,000 seats in the Rogers Centre, then Silva vs. Okami can certainly do the trick in Brazil.
And speaking of GSP, this fight won’t hurt the timeline of a GSP/Anderson super-fight if indeed Dana keeps his word about making it this year.
After he beats Shields in April, St. Pierre will need several months to bulk up to 185.
A Yushin Okami fight in August (the rumoured date of “Ultimate Rio”) gives Anderson something to do while GSP is lifting weights and pounding the pasta.
For the co-main event, the UFC should go the same route as UFC 129 and book a second championship match.
There are just too many talented Brazilians at the championship level to leave this card with just one world title fight.
As far as I can see, the two best options for a Brazilian-interest title fight are Jose Aldo (assuming he defeats Mark Hominick in April) versus a new No. 1 contender (likely Omigawa or Dustin Porier), or Junior Dos Santos (assuming he beats Brock Lesnar following this season of TUF) getting his long-awaited title fight with champ Cain Velasquez.
For my money, the Aldo fight is the better bet. Assuming JDS fights Brock in June, that’s a quick turnaround to an August fight with Cain.
Plus, this fight is big enough to headline its own pay-per-view and shouldn’t be the second banana.
Most of all, I think it would just be fitting to have both Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo topping the bill—truly the best that Brazil has to offer the world of MMA.
If the rumour mill is to be believed, Brazilian fighting legend Minotauro Nogueria is expected to make his long-awaited return to action at this event.
In my mind, the most exciting, marketable and relevant fight he could take would be a rematch with Frank Mir.
Their first fight in December 2008 was a “guess who’s back” party of sorts for Mir, who had been written off by most of the fans and MMA media.
Instead, Mir smashed Nogueria en route to a TKO victory, becoming the first man to ever defeat “Big Nog” inside the distance.
Nogueria claimed a staph infection had effected his performance, and speculation about how a rematch would play out has run rampant ever since.
Mir is (tenatively) booked to face “Big Country” Roy Nelson at UFC 130, but regardless of the outcome of that fight, the UFC should book this fight next.
The rooting interest for the hometown crowd would be insane. Mir plays the bad guy better than almost any other guy in the UFC, and the winner would benefit from the boost in profile and standings this fight would give them.
What would a local UFC event be without shameless pandering to the hometown fans, rankings be damned?
Elvis Sinosic got trotted out when the UFC came to Australia. Twenty-year-old Irishman Tom Egan got called up and fed to the wolves when the Octagon came to the Emerald Isle.
You don’t do a UFC event in Canada without giving Jason McDonald, Jonathan Goulet or Tim Hague a call.
So when you’ve already signed one of the most legendary members of the most legendary fighting family in Brazil to an exclusive contract, why not book him?
They used Renzo’s name to sell tickets in Abu Dhabi. They can use it to sell even more in Rio.
And for God’s sake, give him a fight he can win.
Matt Hughes may have been past his moment, but against the 40-plus Gracie he had the edge in age, skills, and experience inside the cage.
The results were predictably one-sided.
This time, give the fighting legend someone more his own speed. Pat Miletich would be a good choice if he and the UFC could mend fences.
If not, there’s a whole plethora of over the hill champions who badly need a payday. Jens Pulver, Ken Shamrock, Drew Fickett—any of those guys would work.
My personal pick would be Karo Parysian. For a couple of grand and a handful of Precocet, you’ve got a “name” opponent Renzo could reasonably expect to beat up to the delight of the hometown fans.
Just make sure no one is playing with the fuse box during his fight.
Who better to open the show and get both the live and pay-per-view crowds fired up than possibly the most exciting fighter ever?
Wanderlei Silva is a legend of this sport and he deserves inclusion on this card simply for the things he’s accomplished and the name he’s made for himself in MMA.
And tell me the Brazilian crowd wouldnt go absolutely APE for "The Axe Murderer."
Who’s the opponent? It doesn’t really matter. No, seriously, it doesn’t matter.
Wanderlei Silva versus a warm body would excite the hometown fans and undoubtedly be a hell of a fight for as long as it lasted.
It's a proven fact that Silva can create excitement—and deliver fireworks—with just about anybody he’s matched up with.
They could do the Brian Stann fight the UFC has been talking about putting together on this card, but my feeling is the timing wouldn’t be right.
Stann just knocked out Chris Leben a couple weeks ago. Waiting over eight months until August would too long a layoff for both Stann and Silva.
Assuming they can get the Silva/Stann fight booked in April/May, that leaves Wandy free to face someone else at "Ultimate Rio."
For my money, the guy I’d most like to see him face is Vitor Belfort in a rematch of their classic fight from the first "Ultimate Brazil" in 1997.
Talk about coming full-circle.