If Brazil isn't the birthplace of the UFC, it is at least the playground for the promotion's formative years. The inaugural event in 1993 took place in Denver, and the company's first 15 fight cards all happened in the United States. It took the UFC nearly five years before finally lugging the Octagon down to Brazil.
But those early days played out as essentially a showcase for the little-known martial arts discipline of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Its leading purveyor at the time, Royce Gracie, won three of the UFC's first four one-night tournaments, his slender efficiency stunningly getting the best of a jacked-up parade of brutes. And through the years that have followed, Brazil has produced more than a dozen UFC champions and several of the greatest fighters in history, from Anderson Silva to Jose Aldo, Cris Cyborg to Amanda Nunes.
It will be a big night for Brazilian fighters when the UFC returns to Brazil on Saturday for the first time since the dawn of the COVID pandemic nearly three years ago. One of those fighters will share a history-making moment with his opponent, and another will move closer to uncharted accomplishment. Those are at the top of the bill among many pivotal moments on the UFC 283 menu.
The main event in Rio de Janeiro features Glover Teixeira, born some 350 miles away in Minas Gerais. He faces Jamahal Hill for the vacant light heavyweight championship, and a Teixeira victory would give him his second title reign. In 2021, Teixeira became the oldest first-time champ in UFC history, at age 42. The oldest champ overall was Randy Couture, who in 2007 won the heavyweight belt at 45. Teixeira is nine months shy of his 44th birthday.
In the co-main event, men's flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo defends his title against former champ Brandon Moreno, who now owns an interim belt. It will be their fourth meeting, making this fight historical in the UFC and the sport. MMA has had its share of memorable trilogies, but never before have a pair of fighters met four times. Figueiredo is from Soure in the northern Brazilian state of Para, at the mouth of the Amazon.
The event at Jeunesse Arena will present several other Brazilian fighters with opportunities for milestone moments. Here's a ranking of the top five fights to pay attention to -- all featuring fighters reaching for the stars in their home country.
1. Men's flyweight championship: Deiveson Figueiredo (c) vs. Brandon Moreno (ic) 4
One might think we've seen all the fight these two have for each other, since they've already spent 62 minutes and 26 seconds tussling inside the cage. But their second hour together might be even better in a rivalry like this. If Figueiredo and Moreno had gone their separate ways after two meetings, for instance, we wouldn't have seen Figueiredo's three knockdowns in the trilogy fight -- after he had zero in the initial meeting and rematch. This is a rubber match, with each man having won one, lost one and fought to a draw. So let's enjoy the completion of this tetralogy -- yes, I had to look up that term -- and then prepare ourselves to be further entertained by title clash No. 5 someday.
2. Light heavyweight championship: Glover Teixeira vs. Jamahal Hill
Glover Teixeira lands a massive takedown in Round 2 to eventually give him the victory over Jan Blachowicz.
Even more than the evening's history-making tetralogy (that word again!), this is the fight I'm most excited to see. Teixeira is an in-the-moment pleasure to behold, no matter where that moment in the fight is taking place. His standup fighting, though plodding and not breathtaking, is an endless conveyor belt of pain and damage. His grappling is an immovable lead blanket that's in no way comforting. Teixeira competes agelessly with the same steady grit he displayed in his UFC debut over a decade ago.
3. Women's flyweight: Jessica Andrade vs. Lauren Murphy
Andrade has bounced back and forth between strawweight and flyweight, and the same law of gravity applies to both universes. Step in the cage with Andrade, and she will send you down to the canvas, as she did with finishes in her last five victories. The other constant with Andrade: Only champions have been able to handle her. Andrade, who grew up on a farm in the southern state of Parana, last fought in Brazil in 2019, knocking out Rose Namajunas to win the 115-pound title.
4. Light heavyweight: Mauricio Rua vs. Ihor Potieria
"Shogun" Rua, the pride of Curitiba, has said this will be the last fight of his career, and what a career it has been. A former UFC light heavyweight champion and Pride Middleweight Grand Prix winner, Rua owns victories over several UFC Hall of Famers, whom he'll likely join in enshrinement someday. "Shogun" was a terror in his prime, but that was long ago. Today he is 41 years old and on a two-fight losing streak, having not won a fight since the summer of 2020. That makes this one of those fights best watched with hands held up near your face, ready to cover your eyes if things get ugly.
5. Light heavyweight: Paul Craig vs. Johnny Walker
Walker was born in Rio de Janeiro but has not fought there since his pre-UFC days nearly a decade ago. He's called this booking "a dream for me," so expect the flashy 30-year-old to show off in his hometown. But how will he do so? Walker, a wildly creative striker with knockouts in 15 of his 19 victories, is coming off a choke out win. Likewise, Craig is a grappling ace, with submissions in 13 of his 16 career wins, but two of his last three victories have been by knockout. Go figure.
And five more notables ... all out of Brazil
Rio's Gilbert Burns was last seen on the losing end of a classic battle with Khamzat Chimaev in April. A little over a year before that, Burns unsuccessfully challenged Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title. Now Burns is trying to rebuild his case for contendership, and a win over tough veteran Neil Magny would be a step in the right direction.
There are just seven featherweight women in the UFC, and two of them are Zarah Fairn and Brazil's Josiane Nunes, who meet in the prelims. That means the pair represent 29% of the 145-pound roster. Can one of these women put on the kind of performance that'll help reinvigorate a weight class that has been fading into oblivion?
Brazilian heavyweight Jailton Almeida has won 12 fights in a row, all by finish. That's the kind of résumé that opens eyes, which means many will be watching to see if Almeida can pass the biggest test of his career. Shamil Abdurakhimov is on a three-fight skid, but before that, he was a top-10 contender.
Making his UFC debut in his adopted hometown, bantamweight Luan Lacerda has won 10 straight, with no losses since 2014.
Back in September, a pair of brothers from Brazil, Ismael and Gabriel Bonfim, competed on Dana White's Contender Series on the same night and both earned UFC contracts. On Saturday, lightweight Ismael and undefeated welterweight Gabriel make their UFC debuts.