The “Ripe Fruit” theory and what may go wrong in Rio

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Anderson puts his belt on the line, before Yushin Okami and Dana White (in the background). Photo: Wander Roberto/UFC.

Never before has the UFC had such a sightly setting. Rio de Janeiro isn’t for beginners but the foreigner guests are doing just fine. The trips to the Christ statue, bowls of açaí, favela-dwelling kids sporting four-ounce gloves, and beauty of the beaches and hills kept the stars, foreign journalists and members of the UFC organizing committee entertained while the fights were still to come.

A slip-up here and there, like the one that befell Ben Fowlkes, who got lost in translation and informed his readers that one of the Flamengo cheering section’s chants, “Eu sempre te amarei” (or “I will always love you” – you can fact check that with José Aldo, Ben) means something along the lines of “You’ll never get out of Maré (a favela).” Or another’s, who asked Dana White if he feared bedlam in the streets should Anderson Silva and Rodrigo Minotauro lose their bouts, the two main events and those most heavily anticipated by Carioca fans.

No, there’s no chance of burning and looting in the event of defeats. Perhaps the multitude could call on the folks from Vancouver or Chicago, but chill, it wouldn’t happen even if they do. The risk of Anderson and Rodrigo losing does exist, however, and the shock waves would be enormous.

“Losses from the two would set the sport back just as it is finding its feet in the country,” predicts Eduardo Alonso, Mauricio Shogun’s manager, shrugging off the idea an equivalent to the “Maracanazo,” the Brazilian national soccer team’s loss at home in the 1950 World Cup final, could happen, “I don’t think so. Okami could pull out a surprise, but I think it will depend on the first round; if he doesn’t impose his game, Anderson will dominate.”

Another Brazilian’s take – one connected to a different team – is, fear for the worst: “I’m rooting for Anderson but I fear he’s gotten too ripe. When fruit gets ripe, at some point it falls from the tree. I believe the fall’s coming soon.”

“A major defeat would set back the sport just as it’s finding its feet in the country” Eduardo Alonso, manager

It’s curious how Anderson Silva has referred to his fight with “Okamikaze” – the cheerful moniker coined by “O Globo” newspaper – as being a World Cup final in Maracanã stadium… “against Argentina.” Even the confident undefeated UFC champ, who hasn’t lost since 2006, cleverly skirted any mention of Uruguay – the rival responsible for the greatest sporting trauma ever suffered by the population of Rio… and Brazil.

Here, it’s worth recapping the debacle known as “Maracanazo.” It happened on July 16, 1950, with the Maracanã the biggest stadium in the world, spanking new, unfinished even, and jam packed with the largest crowd ever in its existence. As ESPN’s journalist Lúcio de Castro – an expert on the subject – wrote, “There has never been and never will be a bigger story in our soccer history. It’s one of the most resounding in the nation’s history, transcending the four lines of the pitch. Brazil vs. Uruguay, the 1950 World Cup final, cannot be compared to anything else that has ever happened in our soccer.”

Brazil was playing for a draw, it routed all opponents mercilessly up until the final, but 34 minutes into the second half Alcides Gigghia silenced the stadium. All the ingredients of a Greek tragedy were there, as the journalist recalls: “The biggest attendance for a soccer game in history (also never to be matched), a city and country in jubilation since the day before, the title won before the ball even started rolling, the opportunism of the politicians and the bigwigs…”

Seeing as how sad a nation became for its love of soccer, could an unhappy end to UFC Rio cause inspire similar emotions? To the Japanese press in Rio, the chances of that are remote.”

“Yushin Okami is a warrior but he’s not an idol in his own Japan, where MMA has been on the decline since Pride’s demise,” an observer from Japanese cable network WOWOW told me. “All the Japanese hope for him is that he does his best and honors the opportunity given him, with a good fight. But everyone knows that Anderson is the best of the best. If Okami wins, it will be great for him – even better for UFC Japan, which is coming up soon.”

“The only hope I see for Okami is to get the takedown and stall starting in round one” Coach Rafael Cordeiro

To Anderson’s team, Okami deserves respect – but his consecration will have to wait. And one of the main reasons is that, unlike Brazil in 1950, there’s been no piddling around in training. “Anderson is all set to show some surprises, both on the ground and standing,” said Atos Jiu-Jitsu coach Ramon Lemos with a wink. To Rafael Cordeiro, once Silva’s coach at Chute Boxe, the Brazilian will set in stone what he’s worth. “The only hope I see for Okami is for him to get the takedown and stall starting in round one. If the game flows and they stand and trade, Anderson will run roughshod.”

So, the party’s set to go off. But will a dark knight rear his head on Saturday? Would MMA (and the 15,000 fans at the arena) be able to stir a vibe similar to that from the Maracanazo, with its 210,000 witnesses?

To the specialist Lúcio de Castro, no:

“There’s a Maracanazo sentiment – but only there at that moment, in the arena. Besides the scale, the meaning of soccer to Brazilian people, there’s a basic question that sets it apart and makes an eventual defeat not carry so many implications. The goal from Uruguay’s Gigghia came at a time when Brazil had never won anything. It brought up the “Complexo de Vira-Latas” (Mutt Complex), a term coined by Nelson Rodrigues, where victory is something to come of the future. Our place in the world of fighting was and is totally different. We came in at the top, ever since the early days, ever since the trailblazers, with a Brazilian beating more prodigious non-Brazilians: Royce. Hence, no loss can shake the fight world’s certainty that Brazil is the greatest power in the universe. In soccer things weren’t that easy, and Brazil only carved out its place nearly a decade after that fateful goal.”

How about you, dear reader, is the fruit ripe or not? To it very well may be… but anyone who tries plucking it from the tree is likely to get a Spider bite.

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