By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After a massive success in Rio de Janeiro last year, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is returning to the HSBC Arena in Barra da Tijuca this Saturday, January 14th. UFC 142 will not see the sport’s biggest star, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, return to the ring, but there are a host of big names on the fight card, with one title bout to bring the night to its climax.
The evening’s main event will see Brazilian José Aldo defend his featherweight belt for the third time against undefeated American Chad Mendes. Carioca favorite Vitor Belfort will also be in action, facing off against Anthony Johnson, and there is an all Brazilian contest between Erick Silva and Carlo Prater. Prater will be replacing Siyar Bahadurzada, who pulled out of the fight.
Belfort always has the backing of the Rio crowd and is a legend in the eyes of the city, but was soundly thrashed last year by Anderson Silva, and will have his work cut out on Saturday night against the explosive and unpredictable Johnson. The American is making his first appearance at middleweight class and the jury is out on whether he has the firepower to step up to the plate.
But while Belfort may warm up the crowd, there is no doubt the highlight will be José Aldo’s title defense.
Unfortunately, the event has had to be downsized to ten bouts after a number of withdrawals due to injury and visa issues, but it hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of UFC fans across the Cidade Maravilhosa. As the nation that produces the most fighters on the planet, Brazil always creates a buzz before a major event.
Richard Nelson, American owner of Blue Agave bar and restaurants regularly show all the UFC action, and thinks the UFC coming to Rio de Janeiro can only do the city some good.
“It’s important for the UFC to hold events in different countries in order to grow the popularity of the sport on a global level. Bringing events to Rio showcases the high numbers of great fighters coming out of Brazil… fighting in front of the home crowd can definitely be an advantage for some of the local contenders,” he said.
UFC was last in town as recently as August, when Anderson Silva knocked out Yushin Okami to retain his title. UFC president Dana White assured Cariocas that they would be back on these shores soon, and he has proved good to his word.
“The 14,000 that were here [in the HSBC Arena] made more noise than the 50,000 in Canada or any other place that we’ve been to. I’ve never experienced before what I’ve seen here tonight,” White said at the last event in Rio.
The preliminary card also holds some intriguing duels, with the pick of the bunch another inter-Brazilian affair as veteran Gabriel Gonzaga takes on fellow countryman Ednaldo Oliveira. Gonzaga had previously retired from UFC fighting to focus on Jiu-Jitsu, but has signed a new contract to return to the octagon.
After three losses in his last five fights, pressure will be on the 32-year-old to prove he is still up to scratch. Tickets are still available via the UFC website, but if you are unable to acquire some, television channel Globo (channel four) will be screening the event as well.