I don't have a particularly solid read on the situation, but it feels like the Brazilian market for MMA is cooling just a bit. Not a lot, but a little. Perhaps an understandable amount after a run where everything the UFC did turned to gold. Coming back to earth is entirely expected at some point.
The question now is to see just how popular things are down there. On the negative side, only two of the contestants for this season's The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 are even on this unofficial finale. That doesn't augur well for the UFC's hopes of continuously finding and developing talent in the key South American country.
On the other hand, it's another weekend and the UFC is in another city not named Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. They're continuously proving/testing what the limits of their operation are, at least in terms of live event possibilities. Tonight is another turn of the screw.
There's nothing hugely at stake for the UFC expect to keep the Brazilian market healthy and moving without exhausting itself. So far, so good.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Fabricio Werdum
At stake: top division status, maybe a title shot. Maybe there's bragging rights here or some sort of revenge angle for Werdum. Maybe Nogueira wants to prove he was the better man in 2006 when they first fought and despite his age of 37, is the better man today.
But more than anything, I suspect this is just a chance at a heavyweight title shot. In a thin division, no one is ever too far away. That this fight is happening on FUEL probably means they'll both have to win one more after this, but stranger things have happened.
Werdum has rattled off two wins and a third, particularly against a name like Nogueira, would probably be enough to earn a spot. He'd at least get much closer. Nogueira is 3-3 in his last 6, but is coming off of a win against Dave Herman. The problem for Nogueira is he's only beaten lower-ranked opposition in that six-fight run. He says he's healthy now, though, and ready for Werdum. If he can defeat Werdum, his inconsistent record may not matter when UFC is looking for someone for Cain Velasquez to fight.
William Macario vs. Leonardo Santos
At stake: an achievement of questionable value. I'm not saying winning TUF Brazil means nothing, but I'm also not saying it means a lot. Frankly, I'm not really sure what it's ultimately worth. It doesn't seem insignificant, but if there's no career and immediate follow-up in terms of in-Octagon success, the value seems to diminish quickly. By contrast, a winning fighter who can stay on a streak can use the show as a catalyst to boost their profile and popularity. So, it all starts tonight, but it's just that: a start.
Thiago Silva vs. Rafael Cavalcante
At stake: a chance at a run at light heavyweight. Neither guy stands much of a chance of defeating Jon Jones if they even get as far as being able to make a claim they deserve that fight, but they can certainly do more than they are now.
Feijao hasn't technically lost since being stopped by Dan Henderson is 2011 and surrounding that loss is a series of a very respectable wins over accomplished opposition. He's still got more he can give to himself and the sport as a very viable competitor, which means even bigger fights on bigger cards with bigger paydays.
Silva has the capacity to be more than he is, but needs to get his life together. His last two wins have been overturned to no contests as a result of various forms of drug use. He actually hasn't recorded a win since 2009 when he beat Keith Jardine. But that's not an accurate reflection of who he is or could be. He's got ability and can recapture some lost glory, but must start acting and performing consistently, fight in, fight out. Tonight's the first step on the road back.
Erick Silva vs. Jason High
At stake: redemption. There's a ton of (justified) hype for Silva, but the truth is he's only 2-2 in the Octagon. One of those losses is the dubious DQ to Carlo Prater and the other in a thrilling bout to Jon Fitch. Neither of those losses is particularly damning, but he needs a consistent streak, referees and top opposition be damned. To really fulfill the promise of his career, he's got to make things happen fight over fight, showing development and improvement the entire time. So far, that consistency has eluded him.
High is in a very different position. He's entering this contest with virtually no hype, which is a shame. He's an incredibly talented fighter who has flown under the radar in part because of losses in key bouts as well as promotional mismanagement. A bout and win against Silva is his chance to prove he was worthy of more consideration and respect and is, in fact, one of the top welterweights competing today.
Daniel Sarafian vs. Eddie Mendez
At stake: a win in the UFC. There was some hype surrounding Sarafian after the first season of TUF: Brazl, but the loss to Dollaway brought the hope and expectations for him back down to earth. Mendez has no real reputation to speak of (in terms of the national scene), but this is his chance to carve one out. In some sense, it's a second chance for Sarafian. In either case, it's about getting the process of their career started on the big stage.
Rony Jason vs. Mike Wilkinson
At stake: being more than they are. Jason is trying to develop under the Roger Huerta treatment. Like Mendez, Wilkinson doesn't have much of a reputation to speak of in terms of the national scene. This bout, then, is for Jason the chance to grow under the UFC's careful supervision while Wilkinson wants to 'cut in line' by railroading a valued prospect in an emerging market.