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In The Rear View: “UFC: Rio”

Also known as UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami, the UFC’s second-ever foray into South American territory went off better than anyone could have expected. The promotion drew a record-breaking amount of eyes to their broadcast in Brazil and could likely have drawn a record-breaking audience to the arena had they chosen a larger venue. The three Brazilian favorites headlining the card came away with big, impressive victories and the passionate crowd in attendance was described as the loudest in UFC history by UFC president Dana White.

Let’s take a moment to analyze what it all might mean, what the winners and losers earned with their performances and where they might go from here.

The UFC is coming back to Brazil. If their reception at the HSBC Arena was any indication, the UFC has a vast and passionate market to tap into in Brazil. Dana White toyed with the idea of setting up a UFC office in the country at the post-fight presser and said without a doubt that he will be bringing the UFC back to Brazil in a larger arena in 2012. With plans to “go big” next time they hit the country, the UFC should hope against the off chance that their first show in Brazil since 1998 was celebrated as a novelty and that the rabid audience will not lose interest in subsequent fight cards. After all, no one knows what the second fight in Toronto will turn out like, either.

Anderson Silva really is the best ever. At this point, it seems hard to debate. Up until recently Fedor Emelianenko and Georges St-Pierre were considered to be The Spider’s stiffest competition for the title of best pound-for-pound. But, The Last Emperor is now on a steep career decline and, though he’s been completely dominant in his title defenses, it’s beyond argument that St-Pierre has taken care of any of his opponents with the decisiveness Silva has — his last four have ended by decision. Silva’s complete decimation of Yushin Okami last Saturday in Rio leaves him with few challenges left at middleweight outside of rematches with Chael Sonnen and maybe Dan Henderson, so expect talks of Silva-St-Pierre and Silva-Jon Jones to start heating up.

Big Nog is back! For now… Brazilian MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira defied the odds in Rio, came back from major surgery to his hips and a knee after suffering an emphatic knockout loss to Cain Velasquez to dispatch of young contender Brendan Schaub in the very first round. Minotauro waded through some hard shots delivered by The Hybrid, only to score with harder shots of his own that sent Schaub face-first to the mat. He rushed through rehab, so there’s no telling how that will effect future performances, but Nogueira proved he’s still got fire in his belly. Whether that will be enough to overcome the mass damage he’s taken in his career to make another legitimate run at the title remains to be seen.

When healthy, Shogun Rua is a terror. Mauricio Rua’s UFC career has been defined by inconsistency. He’s never had the very best conditioning, but it’s the frequent knee injuries that often set the dynamic 29-year-old back. When he took on Chuck Liddell, and in rematches with Lyoto Machida and Forrest Griffin, Rua displayed the kind of raw aggression and power that had him cast as the world’s best light heavyweight during the mid-2000s Pride era. He smashed Griffin on Saturday night and, even though the performance was short and it’s hard to garner very much from it, Rua made it clear that, when he’s in shape and motivated, he belongs at the top of the heap. After his emphatic loss to Jon Jones in March, he’ll need to string together a couple of wins before he’s back in the race for the title, but if he keeps turning in performances like the one he did against Griffin, he’ll be on his way to fighting for the belt again in no time.

Forrest Griffin needs to find something more than money to fight for. When Griffin was coming up in the ranks following his stint on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, he got through mostly on heart and determination. Sure, he picked up an impressive skill set along the way, but he’s never won fights because of skill alone. It was always his grit and sheer passion for the sport that carried him above his opponents. Now though, with age, affluence and a newborn daughter, Griffin admits to losing that hunger. This is a job to him, a means to an end. His mind was clearly elsewhere Saturday night (which is understandable, considering that his wife was due to deliver their daughter at any time), but if he can’t rediscover what brought him to the top, the loveable fighter will find himself quickly left behind.

Yushin Okami just found out what it’s like to be Rich Franklin and Jon Fitch. Better than most, just not better than the best. After two fights against Silva where he met a similar fate as Okami did Saturday night, Franklin packed it up and headed north to light heavyweight. Fitch has toiled away in the welterweight division, beating some of the division’s best, for years since losing to St-Pierre for the belt. Okami will continue to win, but as long as Silva reigns, he’ll just be weeding out the true contenders to The Spider’s throne.

Brendan Schaub will be okay, guys. Probably. Despite questions about his chin (his two career defeats have come via knockout, against Roy Nelson and Big Nog), Schaub will not be ruined by this knockout loss. He’s 28-years-old with only ten pro fights to his credit. He has plenty of work to do, but he’s got the time and the work ethic to get it done. It always remains to be seen how a fighter will bounce back from a loss, but The Hybrid should return better than ever.

MMA fans, meet Erick Silva. A training partner to Anderson Silva and the rest of the crew at Team Nogueira, 27-year-old Erick Silva got a big boost in exposure on Saturday night, seeing as how his brutal first round knockout of Luis Ramos was broadcast three times: once initially on Facebook, once during the SpikeTV prelims and once during the pay-per-view. Half the world just watched Silva drop Ramos with a vicious right hand brought down from orbit, no doubt there will be extra eyes on his next fight.