(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
BARUERI, Brazil – Jake Shields knows a thing or two about hostile territory.
He should. He has fought five rounds with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in St-Pierre’s native Canada and three rounds in Tokyo with Japanese-born Yoshihiro Akiyama.
But tonight, Shields (28-6-1 MMA, 3-2 UFC) enters perhaps the most virulent venue in MMA as he meets Sao Paulo native Demian Maia (18-4 MMA, 12-4 UFC) in his home country in the main event of UFC Fight Night 29 (Fox Sports 1, 5 p.m. ET) at Jose Correa Arena.
“I would rather have taken the fight in the U.S., but my job is to fight wherever I’m told to fight,” Shields told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com. “This is a fight I liked, so I can’t turn it down just because it’s not where I want it to be.
“I’ve been through it so much. I think the Brazilians are a little louder and a little more hostile. They might yell a little bit and scream things like, ‘You’re going to die,’ so that’s not like Canada. But, ultimately, it’s not going to make much of a difference.”
The home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, two current UFC champions and the family that helped launch the world’s largest MMA promotion, Brazil is widely viewed as the spiritual birthplace of the sport.
The country’s fans are among the most passionate in the world, and the vocal crowds that attend UFC events are well known for their songs, chants and even the occasional yell of “Uh, vai morrer!” — Portuguese for “You’re going to die.”
The translation, of course, isn’t literal, but the uneasy atmosphere created by the roaring masses has led to Brazilian fighters going 54-16 when competing on home soil against foreign opponents in the UFC.
Shields has never fought in Brazil, but he has spent time training in the country and said fans have always been pleasant. He’s not expecting the same treatment once he steps into the cage.
“The fans were all really respectful when I was running into them,” Shields said. “I think, overall, I’ll be treated good, but when they’re in groups they’ll probably be yelling, ‘Die!’ and whatnot. They get really into their sports.”
For Maia, a potential title shot hangs in the balance. After competing as a middleweight for the first 19 fights of his career, the former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion recently dropped to 170 pounds, where he boasts a three-fight winning streak against top competition.
Meanwhile, Shields still is recovering from a disastrous 2011 campaign in which he lost consecutive fights for the first time in his career. He’s hoping to earn his way back to a rematch with St-Pierre.
Both athletes are submission specialists who generally find themselves preparing for opponents working hard to avoid engaging in the grappling game. That shouldn’t be the case tonight.
“We’re both going to want to go to the ground and submit each other, so it’s going to be really exciting for me,” Shields said. “Instead of training for someone trying to stay away and be anti-grappling, I get to train for someone trying to grapple with me. It’s been a really fun and exciting training camp.”
Whether the fun continues remains to be seen. For 54 previous non-Brazilians, the unfriendly ambiance has been part of what has been too much to overcome. But Shields thinks he’ll find himself on the other side of that statistic.
“It’s not personal,” Shields said. “I’m sure they’ll be really nice before and after. Hopefully, anyway.”
For more on UFC Fight Night 29, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.