Silva, Belfort Boost MMA’s Brazilian Profile

By Guilherme Pinheiro Feb 7, 2011
Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva |

Whether for Anderson Silva’s artistic style of fighting or Vitor Belfort’s incomparable fame in his native country, Saturday night was a truly special evening for Brazilian MMA.

In the weeks leading up to UFC 126 in Las Vegas, Silva and Belfort’s middleweight title bout garnered more coverage from the Brazilian media than any MMA fight before it. Last Friday and Saturday, the matchup graced the front pages of every major Brazilian web portal.

One of the most popular Portuguese-language MMA websites and forums, Portal do Vale-Tudo, was inaccessible for most of Saturday due to a traffic overload. On Sunday, Brazilian MMA outlet Tatame’s YouTube channel was the video sharing site’s most-watched channel in Brazil, ranking 57th in the world during the same time.

Although Brazilians continue make up a massive chunk of MMA’s top fighters, the fact remains that, outside of the fight-hungry sports community in Rio de Janeiro, MMA does not have a considerable mainstream presence in the country. However, Silva has gained a greater cultural presence of late, a fact reflected in his signing with soccer legend Ronaldo’s new sports marketing firm, 9ine. In fact, Silva’s newly-inked deal with the three-time FIFA Player of the Year helped boost the amount of prefight attention UFC 126 received in Brazil.

Belfort, meanwhile, remains Brazil’s best-known mixed martial artist thanks to his fighting exploits, his high-profile stint on the reality TV program “Casa dos Artistas,” and his marriage to former model Joanna Prado.

Google Trends indicates that in the past 30 days, the terms “Anderson Silva” and “Vitor Belfort” were searched for more frequently by users from Brazil than anywhere else, by a wide margin. The top five cities searching for both fighters were all Brazilian: Belfort’s hometown of Rio, national capital Brasilia, Silva’s home of Curitiba, Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo.

Public interest in the fight was through the roof all over the country. Silva, Belfort and the UFC were the subjects of trending topics on Twitter throughout the week leading up to the fight. One of Brazil’s largest newspapers, O Globo, set up a site devoted exclusively to its UFC 126 coverage. The paper’s printed version dedicated half of its Saturday cover to the fight and at least one third of its sports section to MMA and UFC 126.

Many media outlets which normally wouldn’t cover MMA at all dispatched journalists to Las Vegas to cover the event live. Popular TV shows like Rede TV’s “Panico na TV” and Rede Globo’s “Caldeirao do Huck” also sent units for live coverage. On top of that, a considerable number of Brazilian celebrities -- Sandy Leah Lima and Zeze di Camargo -- flew to Vegas to witness the fight live.

Anywhere one went in the country, people were talking about Silva and Belfort -- even people who weren’t fight fans. This was exactly the kind of casual Brazilian consumer that MMA had failed to capture in the past.

Bars all over Brazil were reportedly working at full capacity over three hours before the main card began. It was a common sight in many Brazilian cities on Saturday night to see patrons ordering food and sitting outside of a bar on the street, watching the fights through the window.

It’s hard to say whether MMA will be treated as a “true” sport in Brazil from here on, getting regular coverage from major media outlets. However, UFC 126 was undeniably a step in the right direction, and should prove a massive momentum builder when the UFC heads to Rio in August.

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