LAS VEGAS — Two of the fighters who helped build the popularity of MMA in Brazil have now been immortalized by the UFC.
Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. They headlined a star-studded class that included fan favorite Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, lighter weight MMA pioneer Jens Pulver, and a classic, knockdown, drag-out fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory MacDonald from 2015.
Silva, 48, is on the short list of the best fighters who have ever lived. “The Spider” still holds the UFC record of 16 straight victories and has the second-most consecutive title defenses (10, behind Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson at 11). Silva had the longest title reign in UFC history, holding the middleweight championship for 2,457 days. He did it all with flair, too. Silva, a flashy striker, has the most finishes (9), knockouts (7) and knockdowns (10) in UFC title fights.
Silva did not attend the ceremony Thursday due to “scheduling issues,” according to his son Kalyl, who accepted on his behalf. Silva posted an Instagram video in Portuguese thanking his team, family and fans.
“They’re both icons,” Kalyl told ESPN of Aldo and his father. “Jose Aldo, ‘The King of Rio,’ and Anderson Silva in the same class is just perfect. It couldn’t have been written any better.”
Aldo’s accolades are nearly as impressive. He is the most decorated featherweight fighter in MMA history. Aldo, 36, had a combined nine successful title defenses in the UFC and WEC, which was eventually purchased and absorbed into the UFC. He was the youngest champion in WEC history at 23 years old. He even moved down to bantamweight late in his career and had a solid run there, too, falling to Petr Yan in a vacant title fight in 2020.
“It’s very emotional, very hard to explain,” Aldo told ESPN’s C. Contreras Legaspi via an interpreter. “Ever since I wanted to come to the UFC, [I wanted to] be a champion, and I got so much more. So, this is a lot of dreams coming through at the same time.”
Cerrone, 40, has the most fights (48) and most wins (29) in Zuffa history (between UFC, WEC, Strikeforce and Pride). But he was most known for being an action fighter and taking fights when the UFC needed him.
“It’s just cool that I got recognized for answering the call every time they called,” Cerrone told ESPN. “And that was my job. When they said, ‘We got a guy,’ then I’m your man, let’s go. And I never turned down a fight, never backing down and just fighting until I couldn’t fight anymore. And that’s what I wanted. That was my legacy. I wanted [people to say], ‘Cowboy’ is fighting? Oh, we got to find a bar. We got to pull the car over. We got to figure it out.’ And I think I succeeded.”
Pulver, 48, was the first UFC lightweight champion, winning the belt in 2001 when the 155-pound division was called “bantamweight” and successfully defending it against the likes of BJ Penn. The UFC later abolished that weight class, and it didn’t resurface for five years. Pulver, who was undersized for even that weight class, would go on to have success in Japan before returning to the UFC and then WEC at 145 pounds.
“I battled, for a long time, with anxiety and depression,” Pulver said in a moving speech. “And I learned, never close the door on the person you’re gonna be in five years. Because time is different. Those problems, those memories will change. If you’re busy growing your world, those problems will get a lot stronger. Never close the door and do something drastic. I love you, believe me. I love all of you. I love you very much.”
The contributions of lighter weight fighters like him early on helped create opportunities for others such as Conor McGregor, who would go on to become the biggest star in the history of the sport fighting at 145 and 155 pounds.
Also on Thursday, the Nogueira brothers, Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio, were named the 2023 recipients of the Forrest Griffin Community Award, which recognizes contributions in volunteer and charity work. The brothers are legends of Brazilian MMA and mentors for Silva and others.