A good rule of thumb when predicting the winner in a mixed martial arts bout in Brazil: If there's a Brazilian in the fight, pick him.
Of course, that could be said of most any fight in any arena in any part of the world that involves a competitor from the land of Pelé and Tom Zé, Carmen Miranda and Antonio Carlos Jobim. They grow some mighty fine fighters down there. But Brazilians are especially dangerous when competing on home soil.
The last time the UFC paid a visit, for an event in Fortaleza in June, there were 12 bouts on the card, each of which was won by a Brazilian. Of course, nearly half of the bouts at Ginásio Paulo Sarasate that evening were Brazilian vs. Brazilian, but still. This is the way it goes every time the octagon stands in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer. The exhilarated crowd always inspires the homeboys.
That's not the only reason José Aldo is a huge favorite to retain his featherweight championship when he faces Jung Chan-Sung in the main event of UFC 163 on Saturday night at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Aldo would be the oddsmakers' choice if his fight with "The Korean Zombie" were taking place on the streets of downtown Seoul. José has won 15 straight fights, a streak extending all the way back to 2005, when he suffered his only defeat at age 18. No one is unbeatable, but sometimes Aldo appears to be.
In trying to find a hole in Aldo's game, somewhere, anywhere, we always point out how his pace lags as the fight goes on. The next thing we always have to begrudgingly mention: It doesn't matter. By the fourth or fifth round, when this Brazilian buzzsaw has switched to the low-speed setting, Aldo invariably has built up a big lead on the scorecards and has broken down his opponent.
Jung isn't known as a zombie for nothing, though. He's a survivor. He'll keep coming. But can he get to Aldo? Can he take the fight to the canvas to allow his resourceful submission game to test José's jiu-jitsu black belt? Many have tried; none have succeeded. And there's little reason to believe Jung can solve this puzzle. The main event has "Aldo by decision" written all over it.
The rest of the main card picks:
Lyoto Machida vs. Phil Davis (light heavyweight):
Davis must be the aggressor here. He does not have the striking game to stand and trade with Machida. Who does? What Davis does have, however, is stifling wrestling. If he can get a hold of Machida, the four-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler and 2008 national champion can take the fight to his wheelhouse. That's easier said than done, though. "The Dragon" has slayed plenty of wrestlers in his day, catching them on the way in with his short, accurate, destructive karate strikes. Machida by TKO.
Cezar Ferreira vs. Thiago Santos (middleweight):
The winner of last year's Ultimate Fighter: Brazil reality show, Ferreira has not fought in 13 months. But ring rust is one thing, and stepping into the octagon for the first time is another. I don't know much about Santos, other than that he's 8-1 in smaller promotions. That's excellent, but probably not enough against a guy who's at least had a taste of the big show. Ferreira by TKO.
Thales Leites vs. Tom Watson (middleweight):
Leites, the onetime challenger to Anderson Silva who's returning to the octagon for the first time since 2009, has 13 submissions among his 20 victories. So Watson's goal should be to keep this fight standing ... something he's not been so good at in recent bouts. Leites by submission.
John Lineker vs. Jose Maria Tome (flyweight):
The 125-pound division is the wild, wild West, a frontier where homesteaders can stake a claim in the title chase in a flash. Lineker has won his last two UFC bouts and 15 of 16 overall, while UFC debutante Tome is on a 16-fight unbeaten streak. I've never seen the new guy fight, but he's 33-3 so he's not really new at this. So, feeling my way around in the dark here, I'm sensing upset. I think. (It's so much easier to just invoke my rule of thumb stated above, but both guys being Brazilian ...) Tome by TKO.
Battle of the sexes
Women's MMA had a shining moment on Wednesday afternoon, and not a punch was thrown. Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, who'll rematch in the co-main event of UFC 168 on Dec. 28, were on the star-studded dais at the New York press conference during the fight promotion's 11-stop "World Tour." Seated as far away from each other as possible along a row that also included welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, heavyweight king Cain Velasquez, light heavyweight belt holder Jon Jones and their upcoming challengers, Ronda and her nemesis did just what we expected: Hurl insults toward each other. (We've been led to believe this was a preview of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, with them as coaches.)
But then there was a brief moment of empathy, even compassion. Rousey revealed that after watching from cageside as Tate was stopped by Cat Zingano back in April, she approached Miesha backstage, shook her hand and told her she had fought a good fight. Tate then acknowledged, "It was cool to see that kind of respect from her."
Rousey then got a show of respect for herself. From the man sitting next to her on the dais, GSP. Asked about his past statements that he wasn't a fan of women's MMA, St-Pierre said he'd been turned off "back in the day" by seeing Cyborg brutalizing another woman. "It was one girl going through another girl," he said. "It was maybe my heart, the way I am. I have two sisters. It hurt me to see one girl get a ferocious beating. It was not a fair fight."
But then Georges saw the first women's bout in the UFC, in which Rousey defended her bantamweight belt against Liz Carmouche. GSP noticed a difference. "Now things have evolved," he said. "I saw Ronda's last fight. She almost got choked, and then she came back. Beautiful armbar. It was a beautiful display of skill."
Rousey took that in and sent a compliment right back at him. "I'm absolutely enthralled every time that you fight," she told him. And then the welterweight champ and women's bantamweight champ hugged.
Losing touch with reality
The UFC has a reality show. Now Bellator MMA does, too. Hey, TV is a copycat business.
Dana White has made it a point to remind us that his promotion was there first. No disputing the UFC poobah's assertion, but does that necessarily make The Ultimate Fighter better than newcomer Fight Master? Not to these eyes.
Dana's mantra has been that Bellator's show is basically a copy of The Voice, the NBC show in which singers get to choose which showbiz celebrity they want to coach them to stardom. So yes, Fight Master has a similar format, with fighters choosing from among Greg Jackson, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and Joe Warren. And beyond that, both shows are about competition, although that's something you could say about any reality show.
Well, almost any. One show you cannot say that about is one that I'd say most closely resembles the UFC's longtime offering. I'm talking about Jersey Shore.
The resemblance is fleeting, I'll admit. Snooki and The Situation never set foot in a cage, like TUF competitors do. But so much of what we've seen during 17 seasons of the UFC show has involved drunken debauchery and other anti-social, sophomoric behavior. So here's my point: If you're modeling your reality show after an existing one, The Voice is not such a bad choice. I might have my quibbles with the homogenized entertainment that shows like that and American Idol try to sell us, but there's no denying that those contestants have talent.
It took me a while to recognize the virtues of Fight Master. Why? Well, out of habit from eight years of watching TUF, I taped the show on my DVR and then reflexively fast-forwarded to the fights, figuring I could do without all of the melodramatic in-house stupidity. Later, though, I went back and watched, and liked what I saw. The focus is on fighting and training to fight. Sure, that's not absent on TUF, and since the show has moved to FX, we've begun to seen some stories being told. But I like how the new Spike show gets inside the heads of the coaches. Rather than posturing up to fight each other at the end of the season, as is usually the case on TUF, these coaches are having their one and only competition on this show. And it doesn't hurt to have the best coach in the sport, Greg Jackson, involved.
My favorite out-of-cage moment was a subtle one involving Joe Riggs, the show's only well-known contestant. Riggs is only 30 but is a veteran of 54 fights, eight of them in the UFC. He fought Matt Hughes. He beat Nick Diaz. Now, seven years after his last trip into the octagon, the man known as "Diesel" is chugging after one last shot. He's the top-seeded man on this show.
With his first bout of the tournament coming up, the cameras showed Riggs cutting weight. A lot of weight. It was slow going, with about 30 pounds to be sweated off. And one night there was a scene in the house that can only be described as cruel reality, but way more subtle than the throw-a-beer-bottle-at-him type of interaction we'd expect in the TUF house. Riggs was at the dinner table, slowly consuming a few leaves of lettuce and a piece of fish the size of a silver dollar. Across the room, there was a shot of his opponent, Nick Scallan, scarfing down a big plate of crawfish. (The show is set in New Orleans.) Next, Scallan was seen digging a spoon into a big container of ice cream. As Scallan enjoyed his dessert, Riggs just stared. He didn't throw anything.