Get all of Jeff Wagenheim's columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
Fight fans in Curitiba, the southern Brazil hotbed of mixed martial arts, showed up in big numbers and with big vocal energy for UFC 198 on Saturday night, but in the main event Stipe Miocic quieted the soccer stadium in an instant with a one-punch knockout of Fabricio Werdum to win the heavyweight championship.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday night:
Big guys, big power
Miocic was backpedaling away from a charging Werdum when he landed the short right hand that felled the Brazilian at 2:47 of Round 1. The 33-year-old Ohioan is a former Golden Gloves boxer, and his punches are straight and crisp. The one that made him a champion didn’t look like much – until it planted Werdum on his face.
“Listen, I practice going backward all the time,” said Miocic (15-2). “I’ve got power. I don’t throw hard every time. I just throw shots. And that was a good shot.”
It was a shot that Miocic wanted heard all the way from South America to his championship-starved hometown.
“Cleveland,” he yelled, “We’ve got a champion, baby!”
Werdum had been getting some love from fans and pundits of late in discussions and debates about who’s the greatest heavyweight of all time. After all, he had finished three of the vaunted fighters who often are offered up as the best ever – Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Cain Velasquez. Had he successfully defended the big-boy belt a couple of times, Werdum would have had a strong case.
But the 38-year-old instead becomes another in a long line of heavyweights who couldn’t hold onto the strap. Velasquez, who Werdum dethroned last June, made two successful defenses, tying him for the most in UFC heavyweight history.
This loss doesn’t diminish the glorious moments Werdum (20-6-1) has authored, but with no sustained dominance, his place in history fell with the same thud as his body did.
Green-and-gold silver lining
There were 12 fights on Saturday night’s card. Brazilians were the winners in all but three of them. One of the exceptions was a draw between a pair from the home country.
The fans got to see several home-country heroes. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza inserted himself in the middleweight title picture emphatically, beating up Vitor Belfort, a fellow Brazilian and a former UFC light heavyweight champ. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, a Curitiba native and the most dominant fighter in women’s MMA, made her UFC debut and won in just over a minute, assaulting an overmatched Leslie Smith in a 140-pound catchweight bout. Demian Maia moved closer to a middleweight title fight by submitting tough guy Matt Brown. And Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a former light heavyweight champ, pulled out a tight decision in his hometown.
All of this was witnessed by the third-largest crowd in the UFC’s two-decade history. Curitiba’s 45,000-seat soccer stadium, Arena da Baixada, was a sellout.