When examining UFC’s existence, specifically the many places in which events were held, it’s borderline impossible to find a comparable region/nation that brings forth the pageantry and fanfare that Brazil does. The decibel levels could have very well rattled the foundation of the Rio De Janiero’s HSBC Arena. It was enough to make even the greatest of self loathers believe they could slay giants.
Here’s a look back at what kept UFC Rio’s crowd ignited:
Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort defeated Anthony “Rumble” Johnson via Rear Naked Choke (0:13 Mark of First Round)
Vitor Belfort was assigned a task within a task. In addition to welcoming Anthony Johnson to the middleweight division, he had to do so against a fighter that checked in 11 pounds overweight at the official weigh-in. The lack of professionalism not only garnered the contempt of the UFC masses, it proved to be counterproductive on fight night.
The bout opened with Johnson unleashing strike attempts that only gave Belfort quick breezes. His strikes appeared slower than usual Rumble then landed a front kick to The Phenom’s ribs, which preceded a few upper cuts from Belfort after an attempted rush from Johnson. Belfort went for a head kick, but it resulted in a takedown by Johnson. Johnson mounted on top by way of full guard, connecting with a few punches. Belfort countered out briefly but was a recipient of a falling punch from Johnson. Johnson got in a few more mounted punches, but after controlling Johnson’s right arm, action was stalled and referee Dan Margliato broke the position for the two to return to their feet. As the two stood, the audience rang out, repeatedly chanting “OLE OLE OLE OLE…VITOR VITOR”. Belfort missed with a left and right hook, but was able to stuff Johnson’s takedown attempt, meeting him with upper cuts. The two went to the cage, found themselves again in stalled action, prompting for Margliato to call for a second clean break. Johnson missed with a wild left hook, taking some upper cuts and hooks for his efforts. Belfort connected with a jumping knee. Johnson went for another takedown but was stuffed and forced to the ground. Johnson was able to counter and gain full guard a second time. Action once again ceased and Margliato called for a third break. Although Johnson was out to be the aggressor, he fell short of expectations thanks to plodded and inaccurate delivery. Johnson missed yet another takedown, this time receiving right hooks, which slowed Johnson’s momentum. Belfort adjusted his stance to deliver left hooks. From there, Belfort took Johnson’s back, rendering Johnson defenseless. The Phenom continued to shower down punches onto Rumble, which led to an opening. The Phenom got his right arm under Rumble’s chin, locked in a rear naked choke and forced Johnson to tap out with 0:13 left in the opening round.
Jose “Scarface” Aldo Jr. defeated Chad “Money” Mendes via Knockout- UFC Featherweight Title Bout (0:01 Mark of First Round)
When Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” blared through the HSBC Arena’s sound system, not only did it segue Jose Aldo’s arrival, it raised the audience’s noise level, proving to be a prelude for the evening’s marquee match. The bout opened with an inaudible, yet resounding chant for the hometown hero. The two combatants sized one another up, leading Mendes to start the first strike, in the form of two inside leg kicks. After two more kicks from Mendes, Aldo responded with a kick of his own, carrying the kind of impact that forced Mendes to take an unwanted 45 degree turn. After a few combined missed kicks, Money went in for his first takedown attempt, drawing nothing in return. A few missed punches were thrown and Scarface followed through with another leg kick, buckling the challenger. Money attempted a jab-uppercut combo, only to find air. Aldo landed a thunderous uppercut that sent Mendes to the ground. Mendes responded with another shot at a takedown, only to come up empty-handed. Mendes rushed again and landed a left uppercut to Aldo’s stomach. Aldo answered with another chin kick. Aldo missed an uppercut. Mendes shot in for another takedown, making him 0-3 in that department. Money landed a few punches and leg kicks, but none of them carried significant impact. Aldo missed a two-punch, kick combo, which gave Mendes an opening for a takedown, but elusiveness again helped Aldo escape the challenger’s clutches. The combatants found themselves against the cage. Mendes went for a belly to back takedown, but Aldo held the fence to avoid a possible meeting with the mat. The cage proved to be not much of aid as Mendes went to repeat the takedown, which was to no avail. Scarface replied with a back elbow to Money’s face. Mendes found a bit of success with knee shots to the back of Aldo’s thighs. Unfortunately, they didn’t serve the complete purpose, as Aldo’s legs were in no way weakened by those shots. Mendes took another shot at a takedown off the fence but again got nothing in return. Aldo was able to break Mendes hold and follow-up with a left knee that send Mendes crashing to the mat. With 0:01 left in round one, Scarface ended Money’s championship hopes with three mounted punches, thus retaining his title.
The energy was so radiant in the HSBC Arena, Aldo made a U-turn from greeting his corner, opting to share his big win with fellow natives. Before having his hand raised in victory by referee Mario Yamasaki, he was perched on the shoulders of his Brazilian brethren, processing throughout the arena.
On a night where two Rio De Janeirians faced insurmountable odds, Vitor Belfort and Jose Aldo Jr. will forever look back on January 14th, 2012 as a night in which “Home Has Never Felt Better”.
By Antoine Hoffman