It was the middle of the night, and DJs turned off the music. Bars shut off their jukeboxes, and people shifted attention to their nearest TV set in dwellings all around Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba, and other cities in the north of Brazil.
That's when Anderson Silva took on Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 and delivered a first-round knockout that, he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
), has taken the sport to a new level of recognition in his home country.
That means the spotlight is getting brighter for the middleweight champ. But Silva, who said he's noticed a surge in popularity since the Feb. 5 event, welcomes the attention.
"In Brazil, you have the great tradition for the Gracie family, (and) for all the fighters: Pedro Rizzo, Marco Ruas, and the Pederneiras," he said during the opening of the Team Nogueira gym in San Diego. "All the fighters fighting in Brazil. I'm very excited."
Silva now has his sights set on fighting at "UFC: Rio" against Georges St-Pierre, Yushin Okami, or whomever the UFC puts in front of him. The promotion hasn't touched down in the South American country since UFC Ultimate Brazil in October 1998. The sport looked way different back then. But it's a homecoming that's long overdue, said the middleweight champ.
For the next two months, Silva will stay in Southern California, where his popularity is near constant. A blocks-long line of fans turned up at the opening for Silva and other Team Nogueira fighters, and the love poured freely at the autograph table (save for the few who chanted St-Pierre's name when Silva first arrived).
Silva is used to the level of attention he gets in America, but in Brazil, it's a newer thing. Now more than ever, it's a lot trickier to stay anonymous.
"Sometimes, the people are crazy," Silva said. "But I understand. I'm the fighter in the UFC. Me and all the fighters are popular [around] the world. I understand. I'm happy for this."
The UFC middleweight champion is also trying more to be more accessible, or so it seems. Often criticized for his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to speak English, the fighter is now doing so whenever possible in his time with the media. A new documentary chronicling his life inside and outside of the cage during his preparation for a fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 is set to debut April 22 at The Tribeca Film Festival. It promises an intimate and revealing look at what it takes to be a champion.
Silva's life has been moving at such a high rate of speed, he's hardly gotten a chance to take a look back – until now.
"The first time I watched the documentary – oh my God," Silva said. "Jesus. Amazing. This is me? Oh. But I'm happy. I'm very excited.
"This is very important. Not for me. For my family, and my sons [to] watch the documentary. I talk to my sons all the time. (I tell them), 'You have all the chance [to become] a strong man for the world. The best man in the world. But it's very important you take focus. I love my sons. They're good boys."
But while the message of the documentary is clear, Silva said the message he doesn't want to pass along is that which encourages his boys to become fighters.
One of Silva's sons, Kalya, accompanied him to the open workouts for UFC 126 and charmed the crowd in attendance. More Brazilian media were present at the gathering than any previous UFC event. It was jam-packed.
"Sometimes I'm so scared," Silva said. "No fight, please. You like to play soccer? Go to play soccer. The fight? No.
"I have my friends that fight. My team, (and) my students. But sometimes, I'm, 'Oh my God. No more [fighting].' It's crazy. Jesus. My sons, no."
Unfortunately for him, Kalya wants to be like his dad. What's he to do?
Kalya can fight, but dad won't train him.
"I'm a good fighter, but not a good teacher," Silva said.
It will might be hard, though, for his sons to resist if MMA one day competes with soccer in Brazil. In that case, Silva will be the guy turned away from TV.