By Esmee Verbeek, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter”, a reality show created in 2005 by UFC, started Sunday, March 25th, airing on TV Globo every Sunday, Thursday and Saturday night. It is the first version of the show beyond U.S. borders and Brazil was chosen for its dominence in the sport and strong fan base.
The show format creates two teams of fighters, and each has a coach, a renouned UFC fighter who also show down at the end of the season. For the Brazil series, the coaches are former (UFC) champions Wanderlei Silva, and Carioca favorite Vitor Belfort (aka ´o Fenômeno´).
Silva and Belfort fought one another in 1998 and many were surprised when the more experienced Wanderlei Silva was knocked out by Belfort’s punches after only 44 seconds. Belfort started his career training jiu-jitsu with the Gracie family, then turned UFC light heavyweight champion in 2004. Silva started fighting at the age of thirteen and became the now defunct Pride league 2003 champion.
Both coaches and UFC president Dana White formed the jury in the first episode, when sixteen bouts between 32 MMA fighters were held in Rio de Janeiro. The sixteen winners went on to be in the running for The Ultimate Fighter Brazil title.
All sixteen athletes will stay in the show until the end of the program, with those losing fights staying on to assist with training. They can return to the competition when another fighter gets hurt.
The show’s contenders live together in a house in São Paulo until the final event, which will be broadcasted live from Rio’s Engenhão on June 23rd resulting in a champion in two weight classes (featherweight and middleweight). It is the same event as when coaches Silva and Belfort will fight each other again.
In addition, the same event will have the seemingly indestructible champion of the UFC middleweight division, Brazilian Anderson Silva fighting the American Chael Sonnen.
The Ultimate Fighter Brazil champions of both weight divisions will automatically be contracted by UFC. Besides the possibility of winning the title and a contract, the athletes with the best knock-out, the best fight and the best finalization win R$45,000 each.
For young Brazilian fighters, The Ultimate Fighter is a great way to reach the top. Dana White told the athletes at the beginning of the program: “This is the biggest opportunity of your lives. Today is the most important day of your lives. You are going to give all you have and you might turn out to be UFC world champions.”
UFC hopes the event in June will break the record of the 55,000 visitors who watched UFC 129 live, in Toronto, Canada, in 2011. With the Brazilian passion for MMA, a venue (Engenhão) which can seat 80,000 visitors, a fight between the series finalists, legendary coaches Wanderlei Silva verses Belfort, and the Anderson Silva verses Sonnen bout may do it.
The UFC’s last event in Rio was at the HSBC Arena in Barra da Tijuca January 14th, and saw Brazilian featherweight champion Jose Aldo knock out undefeated American challenger Chad Mendes in the first round. Tickets for the UFC event on June 23rd are expected to be sold from May on.