RIO DE JANEIRO -- The sun came out Thursday in Rio, and it finally made those sharp, humpback mountains you see jutting out of the ocean in postcards become visible. For the first time you could observe Sugarloaf Mountain, the most famous of these peaks that sits in Guanabara Bay and on Wednesday was shrouded by cloud cover. The sun also worked against the city’s aesthetics, as it brought out the Speedos in droves on Copacabana Beach. Dennis Hallman was a fight card early, apparently -- in Rio, he’d have been a scoffable cliché. In Philadelphia, he was treated like a flasher who sneaked into the cage. Then again, that was probably the point.
Otherwise, it was your typical day interacting with Rio natives, mixed martial artists and peanut mongers.
9:08 a.m.: Coffee at the Sol Ipanema is for savoring, not guzzling. It’s served in a glass cup with a handle in which the finger hole wouldn’t let a Twizzler through, much less an index finger. The endless cup of coffee that so many northerly Americans prefer is much trickier here. There aren’t any Starbucks that I’ve seen, which makes Rio defiant toward global homogeny. No venti-sized options anywhere, on any menu. The coffeehouses serve little crumpets the size of acorns with the cup, but they don’t come along and freshen anything. If you want more coffee, you pay another 6 real, dude. There’s something ominously leisurely about all of this. I like it, but I yawn a lot as I like it.
9:10 a.m.: What is the protocol for calling yourself an American? I am an American, but so are the cariocas (the people of Rio de Janeiro). I have learned to just say eu nao sou de por aqui, which means “I’m not from around here.” This seems elusive, but at the end of the day it’s as dismissing as beginning a sentence with “At the end of the day …”
Christ the Redeemer
9:36 a.m.: A group of journalists, including ESPN.com photographer Ed Mulholland, are currently riding up to view the Christ the Redeemer statue with UFC legend Royce Gracie and Junior dos Santos. That’s some Hunter S. Thompson off-kilter stuff right there. Me? I am writing this journal with no coffee left. They are having a Rio experience, while I’m having something more ... meta. I wish I were they.
12:36 p.m.: Ran into UFC commentator Mike Goldberg, who likes himself some Rio. I asked him whether he’s been here before and he said yes, in 1998, when he visited Sao Paulo. “I came here, too, and went to a party right there at the Copacabana Palace,” he says. “I don’t remember anything about it." He laughs. Sounds like my kind of party, I tell him. He laughs again, this time more suspiciously.
1:39 p.m.: The news conference is at the famed Copacabana Palace of Goldberg’s forgotten night. It is, in fact, palatial. There are more media gathered for this event than just about any other UFC event. The foreigners are easy to spot. They are wearing headsets so that the Portuguese can be translated from a woman in an elevated police booth. This seems like a truly foreign experience. Then again, MMA Junkie’s John Morgan is typing something. This is a sign that everything is as it should be.
2:32 p.m.: The soft blue-hued lighting has given way to a strobe light effect as the panel makes its way to the stage. UFC president Dana White has a headset, and so do all the Americans -- or, I should say, Brendan Schaub, Yushin Okami and Forrest Griffin. The ones who aren’t from around here.
2:36 p.m.: Is it just me, or is the translator/emcee in the police booth trying to seduce everybody in the room? Anderson Silva's usual translator, Ed Soares, doesn’t have anything on this delivery. What Silva is saying is suddenly becoming interesting.
2:56 p.m.: The thing that keeps being brought up is that Silva really became a breakout star in his native Brazil when he front-kicked Vitor Belfort all the way back at UFC 126. The reason? The fight was free in Brazil, while it cost a cool $49.99 in the U.S. This sort of goes against the notion that Silva was a big star down here before 2011. We’d heard many times about how much the middleweight champion was beloved in his native country. Nike and Burger King endorsements I guess helped nudge him toward superstardom, but reports of his transcendence in Brazil going back the mid-aughts seem slightly exaggerated.
3:12 p.m.: Luta livre was the poor man’s discipline back in the day here in Brazil. And jiu-jitsu was more about the aristocrat. They intersected a lot of ground fighting elements. In vale tudo fights, luta livre was obviously advantageous for a smaller competitor. In fact, Robert Leitao preceded Royce Gracie by 20 years and ... oh, look, the news conference is wrapping up.
4:39 p.m.: Just as feared, the surfing lesson at Praia do Arpoador that was to involve featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Gracie, Lyoto Machida, Junior dos Santos and a small parcel of Octagon girls was canceled because of the immense waves. Bodhi from “Point Break” wouldn’t have been able to resist but hey, in lazy fighter vernacular, it is what it is.
5:18 p.m.: Copacabana Beach. I'm having a coconut husk that has been jack-o-lanterned, which the tourists drink as a natural hangover cure. Being accosted by people hawking Copacabana sarongs, some of them as Brazilian flags. One man is selling fake glasses of beer that look deliciously authentic. He then lunges the glass at passerby and makes them take cover. This is his sales pitch. It doesn’t seem as though he’s moving a lot of pieces.
5:19 p.m.: Flocks of frigates all over the beach, those red-throated seabirds of the pelican family. They enjoy the balmy climes. I also spotted a lavadeira-mascarada, which is a small black and white bird that translates to “masked washerwoman” in English. You don’t see masked washerwomen in the U.S. everyday.
6:00 p.m.: There’s a local Shooto fight card happening, but it’s invitation-only. Some of the media got themselves invited. It has a Fight Club vibe. Photographer Esther Lin is going. I will later see a photograph of her standing between two dudes wielding AK-47s. Needless to say, later I will be kicking myself for not going.
7:58 p.m.: Instead, it’s dinner at the Garota, which means girl. The restaurant name is borrowed from Antonio Carlos Jobim’s famous song “Girl From Ipanema.” This is a misnomer. This place is teeming with men drinking glasses of beer. It’s a carnivores gathering, too. The picanha a Brasileira no rechaud is a sizzling hot plate of thinly sliced top sirloin that people hibachi at their own pace. At first it seems like they are upselling an expensive plate (76 real), but in the end, turns out they are steering people toward a culinary epiphany. Nicely done.
9:13 p.m.: There was supposed to be a UFC media mixer planned for tonight, but just like the surfing lessons, it was canceled. Bummer. The one in Pittsburgh was a hoot with Jim Miller and Clay Guida engaged in a secretly contentious pingpong battle. The phrase you hear a lot in Rio is “organized chaos,” and that holds true in just about everything. No mixer. Eh, at the end of the day, it is what it is.