Sherdog reports on the ambition of Bitteti Combat to re-ignite a major commercial MMA scene in Brazil:
For years, Brazilian fans and fighters have dreamed that MMA would someday garner support from the country’s government. That dream was realized on Aug. 3, when Rio de Janeiro Governor Sérgio Cabral hosted a special ceremony to announce Bitetti Combat 4.
“It brings some hope,” (Pedro) Rizzo said. “When the UFC came to Brazil in 1998, we thought it was the beginning of a new era for MMA here, but it never happened. We had some nice events, but not a top one like the UFC. The proposal of Bitetti Combat is to put on a great show with some of the greatest Brazilian fighters inside the Octagon. So this event brings back the hope of having MMA growing in Brazil like it is in the U.S.A. and other countries."
Governor Cabral, who was presented an MMA glove by Bitetti inside a cage constructed in the gardens of governor’s palace, has guaranteed his support and launched a historical partnership with MMA.
The historical context here is key. As I wrote in my 14th installment of MMA history, there was a brief period in the 1990s when Brazilian promotions not only featured the biggest Brazilian stars, but also drew in the top fighters from America:
Promotions like the World Vale Tudo Championship, the International Vale Tudo Championship, and Universal Vale Tudo Fighting sprang up and put on many shows featuring top Brazilians and American fighters including UFC vets Dan Severn, Oleg Taktarov, Gary Goodridge, Steve Jennum and Pat Smith as well as top wrestlers (and future UFC and PRIDE fighters) like Dan Henderson, Kevin Randleman, Tom Erikson, and Mike Van Arsdale.
This golden age of Brazilian MMA reached a climax in 1997 with the ill-fated Pentagon Combat event. Funded by an Arabian sheik, it brought tops stars from around the world, and brought the old jiu jitsu vs luta livre feud to a crescendo.
Gracie Magazine has a write up on the Pentagon Combat event, a lavish, well-funded event that featured multiple UFC stars as well as Renzo Gracie and top representatives of Luta Livre, jiu jitsu's bitter rival. Unfortunately, the facility housing the event had non-existent security and hundreds of people crashed the gate.
This ended in disaster during the headlining bout between Gracie and Eugenio Tadeu when a riot broke out in the middle of the bout and enraged fans entered the cage.
With that riot, any potential for a commercially viable, socially accepted major-league MMA scene in Brazil took a long dirt nap.
One of the ironies of MMA history is the fact that while vale tudo was invented in Brazil as a more extreme extension of the kinds of challenge matches that were popular in North America around the turn of the twentieth century, it remained strictly an underground event, never attaining mainstream status. Periodic TV coverage of big fights in the 1950s, 1970s and early 1990s never resulted in anything resembling a sustained popularity for the sport, largely because the fighters didn't have a professional, sporting attitude and treated other fighters and camps as enemies rather than rivals.
Brazil is beginning to emerge as a regional economic leader, finally showing signs of realizing its immense economic potential. The timing couldn't be better for MMA promoters to get on good terms with the local governments in Brazil.