NEWARK -- With apologies to Rio de Janeiro, for one night Carnival was to be relocated to New Jersey.
It didn't turn out to be the most festive parade, though. The evening ended with more grousing than grinding. Few among the 14,308 at the Prudential Center seemed in the mood to dance to João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Those in the crowd did get to see a couple of latter-day Brazilian icons turn up the heat on Saturday night. UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barão. Featherweight belt holder José Aldo. The sizzling drumbeat of Brazil lives on in these emerging cultural heroes.
When first Aldo and then his training partner, Barão, walked into the octagon late in the evening, the pressure was on. There always is when you're a champion, of course, but on this night there was something bigger at stake. There was national pride to be defended.
Brazil may or may not be the birthplace of mixed martial arts, depending on which history text your school district buys. But its place as a hotbed is indisputable. The pulsing roots of Brazilian dominance in the octagon go all the way back to the beginning, from the disarming days of Royce Gracie all the way to the relentless reign of Anderson Silva. Yet this night began with Barão and Aldo as the only Brazilians with UFC championship belts.
It ended the same way. Como maravilhoso!
Barão (32-1, 1 NC) ended the night in style ... sort of. The 26-year old, unbeaten in 33 fights going back to 2005, knocked out Urijah Faber in the UFC 169 main event, but the stoppage at 3:42 of the first round was questioned by Faber and fans alike. Barão had wobbled "The California Kid" with an overhand right after previously putting him on his back with a straighter use of that fist. This time Faber backpedaled and the champion swarmed him, sending Faber face-first onto the canvas.
That's where Faber remained for the duration. Barão pounced on top of him and began clubbing away with right hands, 16 of them in succession. Some landed to the side of Faber's head. Others landed on Urijah's left arm, which the challenger held alongside his ear for protection. Referee Herb Dean was hovering nearby, and as Faber lay there motionless, the ref asked him to show him something. Faber gave a thumbs-up, but Dean either didn't see the gesture or didn't think that was enough of a showing, and jumped in and ended it.
Faber was confused. "He told me to do something, so I gave him a thumbs-up under there right before he stopped it," he said afterward. "I guess I could jump up and say, 'Hey, Herb, I'm OK.'" He didn't seem angry, though. He stressed that he considers Dean one of the best referees in the business, and said he didn't want to take anything away from Barão, adding, "He caught me with a clean shot."
Indeed, he did. The first big right hand that the Brazilian landed crumbled Faber, and the fight almost ended there. Faber survived that time, but when he got to his feet he took a couple more wobbling shots before the overhand right that was the beginning of the end.
Even the champ was surprised by that stoppage. "Yeah, a little bit," he said. "But I thought I rocked him."
Minutes earlier, Aldo (24-1) made history of his own, although not the type that excited anyone in UFC. When his co-main event meeting with Ricardo Lamas went the distance, it marked the 10th fight of the night to do so, making UFC 169 the card with the most decisions in the promotion's 20-year history.
But all decisions are not created equally. Whereas some bouts earlier in the evening played out like lullabies, Aldo's was don't-blink stuff. The champ was all fast-twitch fury, stalking with narrowed eyes focusing on leg kicks, body punches and other debilitating forms of attack. Once he found his range, he patiently damaged Lamas round after round in earning a unanimous decision, with all three judges giving him four of the five rounds.
Lamas had his moments, but they all came in the last half of the final round. And winning 2½ minutes of a 25-minute fight doesn't add up in a fighter's favor. Still, seeing him reverse Aldo on the mat, keep the champ on his back for the rest of the way, and getting in a couple of clean elbows amid Aldo's octopus defense was a positive takeaway. But it was Aldo's night ... which has been the case for 17 of his fight nights in a row.
However, the Brazilian's reign in the featherweight division appears near an end. At the post-fight press conference Aldo was asked about a move up to lightweight to challenge Anthony Pettis. At first, Aldo deferred to the will of UFC president Dana White, but when White then tossed the decision back his way, Aldo said, "Why not? We're ready to fight. Let's fight."
Moments later, White told the assembled media -- and Aldo -- that he'd just received a phone message from Pettis. The lightweight champ wants the fight, too. On a night filled with decisions that were largely ho-hum, here was one that fight fans everywhere could get behind.