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UFC 224 open workouts radiate spirit of Brazil

It’s well known that Brazil loves its MMA the way it loves everything: with passion. And the collective excitement for seeing so many of their homegrown stars at Saturday’s UFC 244 event spilled over into all the connected events of fight week, not the least of which was the official open workouts, held at BarraShopping Mall in Rio.

Pennington hoists <a href='../fighter/Tecia-Torres'>Tecia Torres</a> during UFC 224 open workouts. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC)The mega-mall was actually an ideal locale for the event, as it allowed fans of all ages to pack its three levels for to get a glimpse of the stars as they showed off some of the fruits of their training camps.

Living legend Lyoto Machida kicked the evening off, looking methodical and concise in his movements. He yielded the stage to Raquel Pennington, who was joined by fiancée Tecia Torres for some lively sparring. Mackenzie Dern’s routine peaked when she allowed a young fan on stage to attempt a rear naked choke on her (she tapped!), followed by a visit from her father, BJJ legend Wellington Dias, who will get to witness his daughter doing MMA for the first time Saturday.

A huge ovation awaited the homecoming of Jacare Souza, who kept the smiles and levity going throughout his time on stage, soaking in every moment. If this was truly Vitor Belfort’s last time doing an open workout, he made sure it was memorable, as he was joined onstage by his German Shepard. Kelvin Gastelum got the room bouncing to some easygoing reggae tunes which stood in stark contrast to the punches he had on display.

It was little surprise that the biggest cheers of the evening were reserved for Amanda Nunes, the reigning bantamweight champion wearing the pride of Brazil as a badge of honor. While all the participants looked sharp and ready, none looked as dialed in as Nunes, who dropped her sparring partners (including Nina Ansaroff) so audibly that it visibly startled some onlookers. Improved strength and an evolution in her overall game were evident.

Except for main event contender Pennington, all the fighters at open workouts were either born in Brazil, or had some tacit connection to the country (Dern counts it as a second home, Gastelum trains there). For a fan base that has a reputation for being hostile to outsiders, however, there was only love for Pennington. Asked about this by host Jessica Portasio, Pennington remarked “I really didn’t know what to expect. Brazil, I love you guys! I’m just grateful to be out here with some love and support.” Judging by the warm cheers and applause that followed, she was practically one of their own.
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