After his win over Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133, Vitor Belfort predicted that the UFC would one day be bigger than the World Cup in his native Brazil. While he didn’t go that far, UFC President Dana White was clearly excited about the company’s prospects in the country on Tuesday’s UFC 134 media call.
“Obviously, Brazil has exploded in popularity for mixed martial arts and the UFC, and the guys we have fighting on this card are icons in the sports world down there. So, yeah, it’s a big deal. We’re very excited about it,” White said when asked about the importance of returning to Brazil for the first time in more than a decade.
“It sold out fast. It’s one of those situations where we a little gun-shy down there. We have like a 14,000 seat arena down there, and 350,000 people were online looking for tickets, so we probably could have done a little bigger arena, but we played it safe the first time down there. But this a big deal, we’re excited about it and we’re pumped about this card.”
Bolstering the interest in the event is the fact that all but one bout features a Brazilian fighter, and that three of the top MMA talents the country has ever produced with be competing on the card as well.
“Yeah, it made sense to have Anderson Silva on the card, just like it made sense when we went to Canada to have GSP on the card,” said White of the decision to included the middleweight champion on this event. Silva defends his title against Yushin Okami, the last man to beat him; the Japanese star earned a disqualification win over Silva back in January 2006.
In addition to Silva, former light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua faces Forrest Griffin in a rematch of their bout from UFC 76. Griffin won the bout, dominating Rua throughout his UFC debut before submitting him in the closing seconds of the third round. The victory propelled Griffin into a title match with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and was viewed as a serious upset at the time. Pride veteran Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira will also make his return to the cage next week, facing rising star Brendan Schaub.
White said bringing an event to Brazil has been a much easier task than some of their attempts across the Atlantic, and noted that this event is just the first step towards bigger things in Brazil and throughout Latin America as well.
“There is no doubt about it — Brazil will be a zillion-times easier than the UK and Europe has been. I think their economy is like the fifth largest in the world — or projected to be very soon; things are booming over there. There’s so many talented guys that come out of there; not just talented guys, literally icons of the sport. It’s the country where this whole thing started. It’s a fighting culture down there. People really get it and like it.”
With the recent run of impressive events the UFC has delivered, White is hopeful next weekend’s event will continue that trend.
“I always hope for exciting fights; we’re on a great streak. We’re on a good run like five or six shows in a row have been absolutely incredible, and I think the energy in Brazil is going to be insane. People have been so fired up for the UFC to come back. These guys are sports icons down there, so I’m hoping it’s going to be good.”
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