Sunday, January 15, 2012


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Last night, in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Jose Aldo defended his featherweight championship belt against Chad Mendes. Aldo dominated the fight, putting on a performance that was practically flawless. In fact, just like the last UFC Rio event, in August of the previous year, Brazilian fighters dominated the card. Some say it was because they had the home-field advantage. Some (those who like to wear tinfoil hats, and think 9/11 was an inside job) say it was all a setup. Me, I like to think the Brazilian fans had a lot to do with it.

Watch Aldo run into the crowd after the fight is called, his countrymen hoisting him up and chanting "É CAMPEÃO!"

Brazilian sports fans are hysterical in their loyalty. In Portuguese, they are called "torcida," a word that not only means "supporters," but also "cheering." And "cheering" (to put it lightly) is something Brazilians are excessively good at. In 2006, Maria and I went to a soccer match in Santos (the team we support), and the following day, toured the locker room. The guide explained to us that the warm-up area is actually located right below the seats where the Torcida Jovem (uber-fanatical Santos supporters) sit. This is because the fans are so loud, so raucous, so vocal in their dedication, that it hypes the players up and prepares them for battle.

This level of fanaticism is not easily understood by us Americans, who believe that painting our faces the color of our team, or going shirtless during a winter game, is about as extreme as it gets. The difference can cause misunderstanding and, in some cases, outrage. For example . . .

The day before every event, the UFC holds a public weigh-in session. Since Jose Aldo's card took place in Rio, the weigh-ins were--naturally--attended by a small arena full of Brazilian MMA fans. Every Brazilian fighter was greeted with roars of approval, while every non-Brazilian fighter was met with ear-splitting chants of, "Vai morrer!" For those of you who don't understand Portuguese, I'll spare you the Google search/Babylon translation, and tell you that "vai morrer" literally translates to, "You're going to die."

Sounds harsh, right?

But languages are funny. They don't always translate literally (God, I hate that word--literally--and that's already three times in this post that I've used it). Did the Brazilian fans really want Jose Aldo to kill Chad Mendes? Did they actually expect Anthony Johnson to die in his fight against Vitor Belfort? Of course they didn't. It's no different than a Red Sox fan stating to a Yankees fan, "We're going to kick your ass." It's figurative, people. (Though, in some cases, Red Sox fans do kick the asses of Yankees fans, and vice-versa, but that's not what I'm getting at, and you know it.)

My point, of course, is that such rabid support is powerful. Santos Futebol Clube knows it, which is why they enter the pitch directly beneath the Torcida Jovem. And for the second time in a row, in Rio de Janeiro, the UFC learned how powerful a crowd's support can be.

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