How two best friends rehabilitated the Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise, and what’s coming next as the popularity of mixed martial arts expands globally:

“The UFC has border-hopped since 2007, first into Europe and Canada, then Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, and the Middle East. The next step is both simple and excessively difficult. Any international fan knows it: “We need a [local] hero,” says Puerto Rican journalist Angel Cordero. He runs a site called The MMA Truth that caters to a Latino audience, and he is convinced his boxing-obsessed homeland will embrace MMA–but only when Puerto Ricans can root for one of their own.

“Brazil is the UFC’s model country, a place with a tradition of martial arts and local heroes, none of them bigger than Anderson Silva, one of whose fights drew 32 million local viewers. The UFC has put on four live events in Brazil since 2011. It also went back to its American playbook–launching a Brazilian version of The Ultimate Fighter, which was a smash hit, generating the same level of social media buzz as Brazil’s 2010 presidential elections. MMA is now challenging to be the No. 2 sport in this soccer-crazy country.”