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.
I'm sure the UFC marketing department had mock posters for UFC 74: "Respect" with Randy Couture and Mirko Filipovic already done up by the time "Cro Cop" was penciled in for a fight in Manchester, England several months before.
So sure were they -- and just about everyone -- that the 2006 Pride FC grand prix champion would earn his second UFC win and a title shot in the process that I'm sure they were already preparing for a bout with "The Natural."
Things didn't turn out quite like that, however, and it's all thanks to a hairy, hulking Brazilian named Gabriel Gonzaga. That night "Napao" provided fans with not only one of the greatest upsets of all time but one of the greatest knockouts -- and maybe the best one via head kick -- in the history of the sport.
"Viva Brazil!" marches on towards Saturday with "Cro Cop," Gonzaga, and the kick heard 'round the world!
Signing "Cro Cop" was a huge coup for the UFC as he was coming off a stellar run in Pride's last grand prix. He earned that honor by beating four men, the last two of which were Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett.
He wasn't the best fighter in the Japanese promotion -- Fedor Emelianenko held that honor -- but he was extremely popular and damned if his head kick knockouts didn't get your heart rate jacked and racing.
When he made his Octagon debut against Eddie Sanchez, every kick he landed was met with an "OOOH!" from the audience. They knew exactly who "Cro Cop" was and what he was famous for. So did Sanchez as he was pretty much a punching bag for his opponent.
But a win over Sanchez was akin to Hulk Hogan taking out Barry Horowitz. It's all well and good but it doesn't exactly scream "title contention." So "Cro Cop" was booked in a number one contenders bout against Gabriel Gonzaga who was enjoying a three-fight win streak inside the Octagon.
The Brazilian hadn't been particularly impressive in the UFC as of that point but he was winning and the heavyweight division at the time was the fight promotion equivalent of Kate Moss' weight.
Those expecting a quick knockout for Filipovic were in for a surprise. Gonzaga bullied 'Cro Cop' to begin the fight and ended up putting the Croatian on his back. From there, he landed punches and elbows to the Pride grand prix champion that not only busted him open but likely demoralized him as well.
When Herb Dean made the questionable call of putting both fighters back to their feet, many felt he was giving the knockout artist an unfair advantage.
Instead, seconds later, the Brazilian launched his leg like a rocket. Its target was the side of Filipovic's skull and it landed perfectly.
"Cro Cop" crumbled to the mat so quickly and recklessly that his leg became twisted beneath him, turning his ankle into a position that made nearly everyone believe it was broken. Herb Dean, after shoving Gonzaga off the unconscious European, briefly held his head in disbelief at the car accident-like scene before him.
Eddie Sanchez, "Cro Cop's" first UFC opponent, feared the Croatian and was mentally beat before he stepped inside the Octagon. Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga refused to buy into the hype and effectively ended Filipovic's that night.
It was such a jaw-dropping moment, I literally jumped off out of my seat and then onto it. I couldn't stop yelling and even hugged my friend because my brain couldn't fully process what I had just seen.
It became the highlight of Gonzaga's career which petered out soon after. But at least we got this, right?
You did Brazil proud that night, "Napao." Parabéns!