Sarafian vs Mutante excites Brazil
NOV 08, 2013 12:40a ET
If the marquee is to be believed, veteran knockout artists Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson are headlining Saturday night's UFC event. However, to many Brazilians, the bigger fight is the one that lies directly below it.
When Cezar "Mutante" Ferreira and Daniel Sarafian meet, it will be the culmination of a long-awaited matchup here. The two were finalists on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. The season was a ratings monster for Globo, the national network that holds UFC rights, with millions tuning into every episode, but the final between the pair never materialized. Instead, Sarafian injured himself and withdrew from the match, and Ferreira went on to defeat replacement Sergio Moraes.
While that alone would be enough to interest the masses, intrigue has been piqued further by recent statements made by Sarafian regarding Vitor Belfort, who coached both Ferreira and Sarafian on TUF, and who has been a longtime mentor to Ferreira, as well as his teammate on the Blackzilians.
Sarafian recently told the Brazilian press that Belfort asked to train with him, and that after doing so, Belfort asked the UFC to set up Ferreira vs. Sarafian.
Since Belfort and Ferreira train together and are very close, Sarafian took it as either Belfort spying on him, or a vanity play. Either way, he blasted Belfort, accusing him of "hypocrisy" for the move.
For his part, Belfort tried to downplay the controversy, pointing at the opportunity Sarafian has received.
"[He should] appreciate this," he said through an interpreter. "How long does it usually take to get to a co-main event? It takes a lot to get there. I'm a fighter. I'm doing my job. We have to stop this pettiness."
But the drama has no doubt helped add some extra attention on a fight that is already highly anticipated.
It will also add some extra awkwardness to Ferreira and Sarafian, who were very friendly on the show.
The two said they have greeted each other during fight week, but have not otherwise spent time conversing.
"I'm a fighter that doesn't like to be too friendly with opponents," Sarafian told FOX Sports. "It leads to tense feelings. Before the fight we were friends. Now it's tough to be close. After the fight is a different story, we'll see. I like to keep a certain distance and be focused. In the end, he's my opponent."
Ferreira said he had never even heard of Sarafian's complaint until reporters informed him of it.
"We're both OK with this," he said. "You can separate the friendship from the professional side. We were friends in the house but work is work. We're going to fight. He's going to give it my best, I'll give it my best, too."
While on Thursday, both tried to position it as just another fight, the two also acknowledged that they have felt an extra glare on them as they ramped up their training. At the time the original fight was supposed to happen in June 2012, it was a big deal. Both men did major television talk show interviews, and the country picked a side and braced for the rivalry.
It never happened.
When Ferreira went on to win the season, Sarafian's supporters insisted that he could not rightfully call himself the winner until he beat Sarafian. That argument exists to this day, though Ferreira resists it.
“I was the champion of TUF," he said. “I won and that's it."
Ferreira's close association with Belfort has won some supporters, and it has turned others off. Even though Sarafian says he has been able to let go of the anger he felt towards Beflort, the dynamic has apparently lit a fuse under what would otherwise be a friendly rivalry.
In the U.S., this is just another fight on another card. In Brazil, it's much more than that. It may even be the most important non-Anderson Silva fight of the year.
“There's no extra pressure," Ferreira told FOX Sports through an interpreter. “I don't feel pressure in my fights. I remove it from my back and leave it to my opponent. Fighting is what I love doing. That's it. Certainly I feel that there's a lot of excitement for it. Sarafian and myself did a good job inside the TUF house. So it made the audience kind of hungry for it. That's why there's such a buildup for it, because of the people we were in the house, and because of what we do in the octagon."
“I think for Brazil, yes, there is a big interest," Sarafian said. “Here in Brazil this fight has a different meaning, because a lot of people watched the show on Globo, which is the biggest network in the country. A lot of people started to follow the UFC and MMA through the show. So they have been waiting for this fight for a year-and-a-half in Brazil. So there's an expectation that added up over the course of time. So I think yes, here in Brazil it's drawing a lot of interest, but internationally, it's a different thing."