RIO DE JANEIRO -- You had to be invited, but the Shooto event that happened on Thursday on a local Rio hillock was fireworks.
Yes, Marvin Eastman was knocked out by Glover Teixeira in the first round, but that in itself was not altogether unexpected if you look at Eastman’s professional record in recent years. The fireworks were literal, as there was a lot of heat being packed from the perimeter down in. After the Brazilian national anthem was sung, 200 special forces officers on hand fired their semi-automatic weapons into the soft earth at their feet with total aplomb. If you asked Clay Guida, Urijah Faber or Joseph Benavidez about it afterwards, they didn’t hear you but for the ringing in their ears.
In other words, Shooto put on one hell of a show. As the card was held outdoors, there were flying bugs to swat and acai to eat. Will Ribeiro was judging ringside. George Thorogood’s “Bad To the Bone” was piping in whenever convenient. It was a crazy if cryptic event held for the B.O.P.E. (Batalhao de Operacos Policiais Especials) -- the special police immortalized in the slightly-but-not-overly fictional portrayal in Jose Padilha’s “The Elite Squad.”
And since this is a Rio journal, I can ask the question that’s been bugging me ever since. Why wasn’t I there? I knew I’d be kicking myself for missing that. Let’s try this again. Hopefully UFC 134 is half as interesting (minus firearms, flying ants and Thorogood).
9:14 a.m.: Bruce Buffer grew up splitting time between Philadelphia and Dallas before moving to Malibu as a teenager. Yet it was in Malibu that he led a rough and tumble existence as a surfer due to a nasty case of “native territorialism.” Yet, if he hadn’t be forced to scrap back then, would he have ended up in Royce Gracie’s gym getting choked unconscious in the early 1990s? Would he have found his long lost brother Michael Buffer? Would he have become the voice of the Octagon, who is probably flanked by two very decent looking Rio women while his tuxedo is being pressed right this second?
The answer is of course: Maybe.
10:18 a.m.: Not sure how it looks up there in the States, but down here in Rio this UFC event is tabbed UFC Rio and not UFC 134 -- there’s no trace of 134. With the city of Rio sponsoring the event, it was obviously part of the deal to do away with anything that would suggest chronology (like the number progression). This is a destination. We have arrived. Nothing stood before it or and nothing quite as real will after. (Note: This makes it two in a row for events in Rio that have a strange vortex feel to them. The first one was UFC Brazil. I refuse on principle to call that 1998 event UFC 17½ as precisionists might).
11:33 a.m: Rio is a city that’s been building on top of itself for 450 years. Nobody I’ve talked to understands the layout here after several days of trying. You can be going in any direction for an hour and the Christ the Redeemer statue is still to the left or right. It’s all circles. Most roads are paved. Many forked. All of them curved, some to dead ends. One false move, favela. Somebody described the street layout like spaghetti. This seems too comprehensive.
12:45 p.m.: For the first time I am going to grab the media shuttle from the Praia Ipanema to the HSBC Arena which is, depending on whom you ask, an hour to an hour-and-a-half from Ipanema. The weigh-ins don’t start until 4 p.m., but there is a Q&A session with Vitor Belfort and friends beforehand. My cab driver on the way to the hotel says “Oh, UFC.” Then he does some air punches and makes some fun sounds and says “Minotauro, yeah?” Sometimes the language/cultural barrier is perfect.
1:30 p.m.: MMA Junkie’s John Morgan has his computer out as we wend along the beach towards the arena. This of course means everything is exactly as it should be. Meanwhile, other journalists contemplate acai. The idea of an impromptu UFC 13 ... err, UFC Rio roundtable en-route is briefly discussed but never materializes. The Japanese reporters in the very back of the van let out groans with every turn and dip (of which there are plenty). If this van crashes, coverage of UFC Rio would never make it back above the Equator. (Or so we like to kid ourselves).
2:12 p.m.: Just under an hour-and-a-half to the arena, through Barra. Along the beach, men and women always seem to be doing pull-ups on very generously distributed gym equipment. No wonder there is such a thing as Rousimar Palhares.
2:31 p.m.: The Q&A is underway. Vitor Belfort is an old hand at it. Problem is, everything he’s saying is in Portuguese. Luckily, there’s a German writer right next to me named Tobias Bunnenberg, who now lives in Sao Paulo. He translates for me in a thick German accent. Apparently Vitor is riling the crowd up by asking who follows which soccer team. He is a Flamengo man himself. He played for that club back in the day. Crowd likes where he’s going. Yushin Okami has been seen in Flamengo gear, too, trying to curry favor with fans (not sure it’s worked). Belfort can’t help sobering the crowd by saying that his real team is the UFC. There’s a “save us the details” sigh among the faithful.
2:40 p.m.: Full stage now, with Junior dos Santos, Lyoto Machida, Jose Aldo and Royce Gracie. Gracie says that 26 years ago he arrived in North America when nobody had heard of jiu-jitsu. He equates this to a scenario where Michael Jordan arrives in Brazil when nobody has heard of basketball. Inference is that he’s sort of the Michael Jordan of jitz. Wonder if T.R. Dunn could shut down his omoplata the way he kept Jordan from penetrating the paint in 1987?
2:55 p.m: Jose Aldo -- “Flamengo!” Crowd roars.
Junior Dos Santos -- “I promise I will knock Cain Velasquez out!” Crowd roars some more.
3:11 p.m.: Lyoto Machida tells a long-winded story that I will now relate through broken German translation. He used to run with his father and brother on the shore, and they would sprint to touch a distant tree. One day his father was sick, but he and his brother went about continuing this very cinematic activity. Lyoto pulled up maybe 50 meters short of his mark, and turned back. Why did he stop? This lazy moment became a sort of parable among the Machida’s. If you climb a tree to the top, you can see the other side. If you climb halfway, you can’t. Hopefully this conveys the gist. Bottom line of the message, go the whole way. (As relayed through German-English).
3:18 p.m.: MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani is sitting next to me, and we’re both eating acai. This is a cold sludgy very sweet purple plop of goodness (with plenty of vitamins and metaphysical reach). We are meant to regret the experience for not having a banana to chop into the acai by the natives sitting around us. Helwani has been watching the whole Q&A. What’s got his attention? Belfort’s ability to handle himself with a microphone. “He is a natural at this,” he says. “He is really good.” I don’t have the heart to tell him that Belfort is bagging on his beloved Montreal Expos. (Unless I’m misunderstanding what Vitor’s going on about).
3:43 p.m.: There’s a popular show in Brazil called “Panico na TV,” which is hosted by two-time Playboy centerpiece Sabrina Sato. She’s here, and the crowd appreciates it. But her sidekick, Tucano Huck, is the marvel. He wears a long rubber nose. I first saw him in Las Vegas in this guise. If he follows suit, we can expect at least one ridiculous question directed at Dana White afterward. At least one, but not limited to one.
3:45 p.m.: Gracie says he has one fight left in him, and that’s Matt Hughes. Crowd likes it.
4:20 p.m.: Brendan Schaub is treated to a chorus of “voce vai morrer!” as he takes the scale. The translation is “You will die!” Ominous. Forrest Griffin gets the same chant, then Okami. Maybe it won’t be a Shooto atmosphere, but it will be an interesting one. After hearing countless “U.S.A” chants in arenas across America, it’s a strange thing to catch the tables being turned.
4:35 p.m.: Everybody makes weight, and some guys by a couple of pounds. Okami weighs in at 183, and Silva at 184. Makes you wonder if the scale was a little off. Some media note the similarities between Marc Ratner and Keith Kizer as they go about reading the scale. This tells you how exciting weigh-ins can be.
6:01 p.m.: All the formalities are over. Now it’s time to go to Copacabana Beach and find souvenirs.
9:47 p.m.: The story within the story is, of course, how Bruce Buffer will handle himself after tearing his ACL at UFC 129 in Toronto. He was guts and brawn all the way through UFC 132, where went about his business with that bunk knee. Now he has a new tendon -- well, a replaced one taken from a cadaver -- and is as right as rain. His first show back was in Philadelphia at UFC 133, and he suffered no setbacks. Will he get his usual “three to four feet of air” (his words) in introducing Anderson Silva? Only if the tendon he has in his reconstructed knee was a basketball player.
This is what you think about when the Brahma is flowing in Rio.