The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its long-awaited return to the country of Brazil this Saturday (August 27). It's a country that -- along with Japan -- helped form the sport we all know and love. Mixed martial arts' (MMA) brutal origins in vale tudo are an integral part of its history as are many of Brazil's native sons. As we head towards UFC 134: "Silva vs. Okami," ¡Viva Brazil! will serve as a celebration of some of those countrymen and a look back at historic moments in the sport involving them.
Tournaments. Mixed martial arts was built on them. Eight, sometimes 16, fighters would battle it out in a single night, picking each other off, until there was only one man left standing.
But slowly, as fighter safety and athletic commission regulations began to move towards the forefront of the sport, the opportunity for someone to fight two, maybe three opponents, within a matter of hours began to dwindle.
One of the best fights to ever take place in a tournament was between two Brazilians: Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. They met in the quarterfinals of Pride FC's 2005 grand prix and nearly tore the place down.
Not only were they fighting for a spot in the next round but they were fighting for the pride of Brazil. "Shogun," represented Chute Boxe and "Lil Nog," represented Brazilian Top Team. The two camps were bitter rivals and this fight was the latest in a back and forth between the two.
UFC 17 was the last instance the American company held a tournament stateside and after UFC 23: Ultimate Japan 2 in 1999, the format that birthed heroes like Royce Gracie, Don Frye, and Mark Coleman was scrapped entirely.
That was until Japan's Pride Fighting Championships added a twist to the beloved but flawed format. They decided to hold a tournament over several events, rather than on a single night. The semi-finals and finals would still be held on the same day, however, keeping the spirit of a tournament somewhat alive. And thus, the Grand Prix was born.
The first Grand Prix was held in 2000 and included fighters as small as 185 pounds and as big as 265 pounds. It wasn't labeled as an openweight tournament as the 2006 edition was but that's exactly what it was. Mark Coleman won that year and his accomplishment remained unique for two years.
In 2003, Pride FC decided to bring back the Grand Prix albeit with a bit more structure. Middleweights were the stars this year and fans saw classic battles between Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeen, Quinton Jackson, Hidehiko Yoshida, and the eventual winner Wanderlei Silva.
The heavyweights took their turn the next year in yet another classic installment. Even though the final match was marred in a no contest between Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the tournament was thrilling to watch as fighters such as Semmy Schilt, Sergei Kharitonov, Kevin Randleman, and Mirko "CroCop" collided. It was the most stacked tournament the MMA world had been -- until the next year, that is.
The 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix began on June 26 and failed to disappoint. The event was headlined by a nail biting rematch between the Middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva and his 2003 Grand Prix semi-finals opponent, Hidehiko Yoshida. But two others matched piqued fans' interested: the first round dismantlings of Quinton Jackson and Dan Henderson by Mauricio Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, respectively. When they collided at Critical Countdown, they provided Japan's -- and really, Brazil's -- answer to Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
The two came out swinging, landing wild punches. "Shogun" quickly took the fight to the mat where the two highly skilled grapplers began putting their Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belts to work.
Back on their feet, "Lil Nog" floors Rua with a hook but the Chute Boxe star recovers and quickly regains composure. From there, they head back to the mat where each fighter took and received their lumps. In fact, Rua's eye began to swell shut at this point.
The rest of the round follows that formula. They would exchange on their feet for a bit before taking the fight to the mat. At the end of 10 minutes, it was hard to pick a clear winner in what shaped up to be one of the best first rounds ever.
The second round slows the action down a bit but not by much. By the time the third round comes along, it's a shock that neither fighter is completely exhausted. "Shogun" seems to have a little bit more spring in his step as he connects with a hook that drops his opponent to the mat and follows up with ground and pound.
Rua's eye is nearly swollen shut. Nogueira is busted open and bleeding. And if you're watching this fight, you're on your feet cheering.
The toss-up decision was given to the Chute Boxe fighter although it easily could have gone to Nogueira. "Shogun" would go on to place the exclamation point on his camp's dominance over Brazilian Top Team when he knocked out BTT's other top light heavyweight Ricardo Arona in brutal fashion.
That's something Brazil helped popularize during MMA's infancy: camp rivalries. You just don't see that anymore. You don't see American Top Team talking trash to American Kickboxing Academy; everything is too sanitized.
In Brazil, MMA just seemed more passionate.