“Tank” Abbott (File Photo) played the villain in Brazil. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
Known for fluctuations in his weight, Abbott came into the fight very heavy. He tried to compensate for his lack of cardio by charging Rizzo and had a little success early before getting dropped with a straight counter. From there, Rizzo picked apart Abbott before finishing him with strikes. The crowd chanted Rizzo’s name, and he was mobbed by friends and teammates, who swarmed into the cage with Brazilian flags. Rizzo went on to fight many of the sport’s biggest stars, but he still counts his first UFC appearance as one of his proudest moments.
“That day was a special day,” Rizzo says. “There were maybe 8,000 people watching the fights. When I fought Tank, they all thought, ‘Brazil vs. U.S.,’ so all the crowd started cheering for me. Sometimes, you can’t hear them during a fight, but in the middle of the fight, I could hear them chanting my name. It was magical.”
Horn-Braga and Abbott-Rizzo were the only bouts on the eight-fight UFC 17.5 lineup that featured Brazilians against foreigners. By contrast, on Saturday, all five pay-per-view matchups and both Spike TV bouts at UFC 134 will feature Brazilians against foreigners. It should make for a raucous atmosphere.
The penultimate fight at UFC 17.5 delivered one of the most memorable UFC knockouts of the pre-Zuffa era. Vitor Belfort demonstrated his remarkable hand speed while charging across the Octagon with a barrage of punches on his stunned opponent. The knockout only grew in notoriety as his then victim, Wanderlei Silva, won the Pride Fighting Championships middleweight title and developed an international reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the sport.
As memorable as the fight was, it almost did not take place; the bout it was supposed to set up never came to fruition, either. Silva was not originally scheduled to fight Belfort at the event, as SEG executives had slated “The Axe Murderer” to face Horn, who was contacted about taking the fight. A couple weeks later, Horn’s opponent was switched to Braga, and Silva instead faced Belfort.
Belfort dropped from heavyweight to middleweight -- 205 pounds at that time -- and Silva was his first opponent in the new weight class. Shamrock was UFC middleweight champion at the time, and the UFC was planning a fight between two of its biggest stars -- Shamrock and Belfort. SEG head Bob Meyrowitz had already approached Shamrock about “The Phenom” being his next opponent. However, the fight never took place.
The UFC was in rough financial shape, and, after he demolished Silva, Belfort left the company for the greener pastures of Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships. Even so, Belfort’s departure opened the door for another of the most memorable bouts in early UFC history. Shamrock only fought one more time for the cash-strapped UFC -- against Tito Ortiz at UFC 22. They would have a war.
In the main event at “Ultimate Brazil,” Shamrock settled a score with an old foe in John Lober. Shamrock has lost to Lober via split decision in his first fight outside the Pancrase organization.
“I had studied him extensively, saw his weaknesses and thought I’d annihilate him,” Shamrock admits. “I was on a bad diet and got tired three or four minutes into the 30-minute fight. I had several submissions on him. In Pancrase, when you got someone in a lock, you’d sort of give them a wink to submit, but he wasn’t worried about his limbs being broken and I didn’t have that instinct to break an arm or leg, so he beat the hell out of me for the rest of the 27 minutes. That’s the fight that turned fighting around in my mind. It made me realize that if I’m going to pick up a sword I better swing it.”
If Shamrock was not already prepared to swing the sword in his rematch against Lober in the UFC, the jeet kune do practitioner provided additional motivation for Shamrock in the days leading up to the fight. Lober played psychological games with his Shamrock, who claims Lober called his hotel room in the middle of the night and sent him an e-mail threatening to strangle Shamrock “like JonBenet Ramsey.” Shamrock went into the fight angry and punished Lober with strikes rather than immediately trying to finish. Lober eventually submitted to punches.
Immediately following UFC 17.5, SEG discussed running Brazil more frequently in the years to come, but the idea fell by the wayside and the delay in returning ended up lasting more than a decade. Given the interest shown in UFC 134, the promotion has already announced plans for a follow-up 2012 show.
The competitors from “Ultimate Brazil,” like the fans, speak with universal enthusiasm about the UFC’s return to Brazil. After his win at UFC 133 in Philadelphia, Belfort raved about how successful it would be, going so far as to predict that MMA will surpass soccer’s popularity in South America’s largest country. Rizzo, meanwhile, has helped to train Anderson Silva for his main event with Yushin Okami and will be at the show to support his friend.
“I expect it will be wonderful,” Rizzo says. “Before, we didn’t have so much recognition. Thirteen years ago, the sport was not that big. Now, the sport became so huge that there are a bunch of new fans. Anderson Silva will be fighting, and he became a big star. Everyone is really anxious to see it live. A lot of people never saw the UFC live, and when I walk around the streets [in Rio de Janeiro], everyone is talking about it. It’s going to be crazy.”