November 12, 1993 was the first time the world was exposed to the UFC. That night changed the way the world thought about fighting when a skinny Brazilian ran through the field, winning three fights by quick submission.
Royce Gracie put jiu jitsu on the map, in what was an event created largely to prove the effectiveness of the Gracie style of fighting. He was, in fact, selected for his unimposing physique.
Asked in 2013 why he chose his brother to represent the family in that initial tournament, Rorion Gracie said: “By putting someone like Royce in the cage, with a skinny body and totally physically unimpressive, we showed everybody that little guys can be tough too if they know Gracie jiu-jitsu. People say, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ That was the message we wanted to put across, and it worked out great.”
Royce would win the tournaments at UFC 1, 2 and 4 — failing to win the third event when he had to withdraw after winning his opening round bout.
His performances, and the ease with which he dispatched men who “looked the part” of vicious fighters, had done the trick. Not only for his family’s legacy, but in establishing the UFC as the new home of fighting. It also showed Brazil to be home to some of the toughest and most technical men in the world.
Other Brazilians would rise up in the post-Gracie UFC. Marco Ruas won the UFC 7 tournament but Vitor Belfort was the next Brazilian to truly cause a stir.
Belfort blasted through the four-man UFC 12 heavyweight tournament. He used boxing skills and hand speed previously unseen in the Octagon. He returned at UFC 13 and stopped fan favorite beer-bellied brawler Tank Abbott in 52 seconds. Belfort would compile a 5-1 record between 1997 to 1999. He would return for two additional stints in the UFC before retiring in May 2018.
As the fighting world adapted to (and adopted) jiu jitsu, Brazilians stayed at or near the top of the rankings.
In addition to the first wave of Brazilian fighters, other men would establish themselves as among the best fighters the world has ever seen.
Anderson Silva burst onto the UFC scene as the living embodiment of a video game character. He won the UFC middleweight championship in his second bout in the Octagon. Then won 16 straight UFC bouts, usually doing anything and everything he wanted to his opponents.
Wanderlei Silva’s best days came in the PRIDE ring in Japan, but he was one of the most feared fighters on the planet for most of his career.
Until the arrival of Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo was the best featherweight to ever compete in mixed martial arts. He was also arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
Cris Cyborg, Lyoto Machida, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (and twin brother Antonio Rogerio Nogueira), “Shogun” Rua, Jacare Souza… the list of true fighting greats from Brazil is long, and their accomplishments too numerous to count.
Brazil (15) is second only to the United States (68) in division champions in UFC history.
But Brazil is not special in the world of MMA for its fighters alone.
The fans are ravenous and create an entirely unique atmosphere unmatched in the world.
One of the defining traits of Brazilian crowds is chanting “Uh Vai Morrer” at foreign fighters competing against Brazilians. The chant translates to “You are going to die.” Only in the world of the UFC is this somehow a charming quality, but it’s expected to the point of being a demand of crowds when the Octagon rolls into town.
MMA website BloodyElbow.com put together a great feature on the history of the chant:
This weekend, the UFC returns to Brazil for UFC 237. The event will be held at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, and will feature some iconic Brazilian fighters.
In the main event, Jessica Andrade faces off with strawweight champion Rose Namajunas.
Living legend Anderson Silva faces off with Jared Cannonier in the middleweight co-main event.
Jose Aldo, the previously mentioned former pound-for-pound king, will look to run his winning streak to three when he faces Alexander Volkanovski.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fights for only the second time since November 2016 when he takes on Ryan Spann.
And plenty more men and women will enter the Octagon Saturday as they look to continue a UFC tradition that dates back to UFC 1 – the skinny kid fighting to sell his family’s art to the masses.
The “Uh Vai Morrer” chants will be flowing in Rio.