There are few names in the world of sport bigger than Neymar. The PSG and Brazil star has cultivated a huge following around the globe and his endorsement can have a huge impact on a fellow athlete. Several UFC fighters, especially those of Brazilian descent, have benefited from such props. Despite being busy with his own sporting and business endeavours, Neymar seems to find plenty of time to attend UFC events, give his thoughts on fights on social media and meet up with his favourite fighters. If he’s not watching Soccer live streams, you can bet he will be looking to tune into the next big UFC event.
Many athletes and sports-people do crossover promotion with members of other sporting fraternities, whether it’s organised meet-and-greets, photo ops or clearly orchestrated social media posts. MMA is no exception. However, these situations in which sporting worlds collide often feel forced and purely commercial. Sometimes you have trouble believing that the latest NFL player to grace the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium means it when he talks about watching Spurs on TV all the time. When Cristiano Ronaldo met Conor McGregor, you may have doubted the true legitimacy of his respect for the Irishman. Perhaps he really does watch the product but something about these things just feels phony.
That isn’t the case for Neymar. He appears to be a legit diehard fan of the sport and especially of the UFC as a promotion. There are countless examples which point to the Brazilian being a borderline obsessive when it comes to matters of the octagon.
His love affair with Jose Aldo has been going on for so long you could argue that it was Neymar who got the rub from the former UFC featherweight champion. They have taken numerous photos together, exchanged words online frequently and even played in a charity soccer match together, in which the fighter impressed the pro soccer player with an amazing piece of skill called a rainbow flick. A genuine friendship between the two seems to have developed over the years.
His love for Brazilian fighters doesn’t stop there. Neymar has been shouting out Anderson Silva for years online and in interviews. It’s understandable given Silva’s position as one of the GOATs of the game. The man is an icon back in Brazil and it seems Neymar isn’t too big to idolise the former UFC middleweight champ.
Then there is the more recent case of Charles Oliveira. The now former UFC lightweight champion and current number one contender is doing his nation proud and Neymar has certainly taken notice. The two have attended UFC events together, posing with the strap, before the UFC took it away from Oliveira. In a bizarre turn of events, Conor McGregor actually threatened to “smoke” both Neymar and Oliveira back in January. The soccer star’s affiliation with fighters seems to be putting a target on his back with some.
Such is Neymar’s love of the promotion, he even dipped into its talent pool when hiring a bodyguard. Several years ago, he appointed Nordine Taleb, a mixed martial artist from France, as his bodyguard, despite Taleb continuing to stay active in the octagon. With Neymar playing for PSG and living in Paris, it made sense for him to go with someone local, but of all the people he could have chosen, he went for an active UFC fighter. Part of you has to think, and hope, he did that so he could beg Nordine to show him arm triangles and leg kicks in the garden of his mansion.
Neymar once met someone who may be as big a fan of his sport as he is of theirs when he encountered Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Dagestani, who himself is in the MMA GOAT conversation, is a huge soccer fan and would have surely been taken aback by meeting one of the sport’s biggest stars. Likewise, for Neymar to meet Khabib must have been an awesome moment for him. There was likely a lot of mutual respect in the air in that room.
There are countless other examples of Neymar rubbing shoulders with the MMA elite and none of them seem fake. The striker does seem to be a genuinely huge fan of the sport and the UFC in particular. Long may that continue as he does a great job bringing eyes to the product who may have otherwise not been keen to try it out.