UFC Middleweight champ Anderson Silva has emerged as a major star in Brazil. Since his UFC 126 bout with Vitor Belfort in early 2011, Silva has increasingly become a pop culture figure in his native land. Silva has fought in his native land twice since KO'ing Belfort in the states and his start has only risen at home.
"He's bigger than Kobe Bryant and LeBron James here," his manager Ed Soares said on Wednesday's edition of The MMA Hour. "He's bigger than that there. It's crazy. Every time I go there, I don't think it can get any bigger, but he seems to get even bigger."
MMA Fighting adds some details to Soares' claims:
Silva boasts major sponsorships from blue-chip companies like Nike, Burger King and Nextel. He's the pitchman in ad campaigns. He's featured on major TV programs. One fight to the next, Silva has kept the momentum building to the point where he has become one of Brazil's biggest sports stars.
Soares, who met with one of Silva's Brazilian agents in the last few days, said he's been told that Silva is the second-most popular athlete in the country behind soccer wunderkind Neymar. To give you an idea how popular Neymar is, SportsPro magazine recently named him its most marketable athlete in the world.
So far Silva has been a wonderful ambassador for the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC in Brazil. It's exciting to see because although MMA (or "vale tudo") has been around in Brazil for almost 100 years, it has never enjoyed sustained popularity or legitimacy as a sport.