Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-7-1, 1 no contest), who turned 37 on Sunday, looked in the best shape he has in years at Friday's weigh-ins, for his battle on Saturday night with fellow jiu-jitsu wizard Fabricio Werdum in the main event of UFC's first event ever at the Paulo Sarasate Arena in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Nogueira, one of the greatest heavyweight's in the sport's history, weighed in at 237 pounds for a fight he's the underdog in against a top heavyweight title contender in Werdum. Werdum (16-5-1), who weighed 242. The fight matches up the coaches of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil season.
The two met once before, on July 1, 2006, at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan, for Pride, with Nogueira winning via decision. Saturday's fight has both men at very different stages of their career. In 2006, Nogueira was generally considered the second-best heavyweight in the world, behind Fedor Emelianenko. Werdum was a newcomer who was an expert in BJJ.
Now, Werdum's striking game has improved dramatically and this time is the heavy favorite against his battle-worn foe. The show, the Ultimate Fighter finals in the Brazilian market, airs in the U.S. with six fights starting at 8 p.m. ET on Fuel, after a six-fight prelim card that begins on Facebook at 5 p.m.
It's clearly a Brazilian market shot, with every fight featuring a homeland fighter. The top three matches features countrymen against each other.
The No. 2 fight on the show is the finals of the just-completed welterweight tournament from season two of the reality show, with multi-time world Jiu Jitsu champion Leonardo Santos (11-4) facing 21-year-old William Patolino (7-0). Both men came in at 170 pounds. The crowd didn't seem to have a favorite, and the finalists got nothing near the reaction that the season one participants got for their finals.
There were no incidents at the weigh-ins, although matchmaker Joe Silva did have to quickly step in between Felipe Arantes (14-4-1, 2 no contents) and the purple-haired Godofredo Pepey (10-1) during their staredown.
Aside from the headliners, there were two clear major crowd favorites on the undercard, both who fight on the main show. Rony Jason (13-3), from the first season of TUF Brazil, got the biggest reaction of the undercard, and perhaps rivaling that of Nogueira. Jason, taking his name for wearing his Jason from "Friday the 13th" mask (which he didn't wear to weigh-ins), faces England's Mike Wilkinson (8-0).
The other favorite was Erick Silva (14-3, 1 no contest), facing American Jason High (17-3). It is Silva's first bout since his Oct. 13 loss to Jon Fitch in one of 2012's most memorable fights.
Facebook fights at 5 p.m.
Anthony Smith (184) vs. Antonio Braga Neto (185)
Karlos Vemola (186) vs. Caio Magalhaes (186)
Mizuto Hirota (146) vs. Rodrigo Damm (146)
Leandro Silva (169) vs. Ildemar Alcantara (171)
Felipe Arantes (146) vs. Godofredo Pepey (146)
Vaughn Lee (134) vs. Raphael Assuncao (135)
FUEL fights at 8 p.m.
Mike Wilkinson (145) vs. Rony Jason (146)
Eddie Mendez (184) vs. Daniel Sarafian (186)
Jason High (170) vs. Erick Silva (170)
Rafael Feijao (204) vs. Thiago Silva (206)
Leonardo Santos (170) vs. William Patolino (170) for TUF Brazil season two championship
Fabricio Werdum (242) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (237)