16 months is a long time to go without a Wanderlei Silva fight. No wrist loosening before the bout, no staredowns, no wild flurries and emphatic knockouts. It kinda renders everything else a little less exciting in comparison. And that’s just the view from outside the Octagon. Just think how “The Axe Murderer” feels about sitting on the sidelines while nursing himself back to health after various injuries.
“I missed my fans, I missed the crowd, I miss the emotion that fighting gives to me,” said Silva, getting more amped up with each syllable. “I’ve never been out as long as this and I’m so excited to come back to fight. For me, it’s like I’m going to debut again, and I get to debut in the co-main event of UFC 132. That’s a great, great opportunity that the boss gave to me.”
UFC President Dana White didn’t give him any welcome back gimme though. In his UFC 132 foe, Chris Leben, Silva will be fighting a near clone who is seemingly only happy when the fists are flying at close range. Then again, the former PRIDE legend doesn’t mind being in there with someone he won’t have to chase for 15 minutes. He won’t have to look long to find “The Crippler.”
“Chris Leben fights like me and has a style like my style, and I’m so happy to not create, but influence, his style in spirit,” said Silva. “Every time you see one guy fighting hard, giving his all, and not being afraid to lose, you say ‘man, this guy fights like Wanderlei Silva.’ And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but every time you make the fans happy.”
For nearly 15 years, Silva has been making fans happy, an amazing run any way you slice it. And while he’s just about to turn 35 the day after his match with Leben, after a decade and a half of wars in the ring, Octagon, and gym, his body said ‘no more’ after his middleweight debut in February of 2010, a UFC 110 win over Michael Bisping.
First he broke three ribs and was forced to pull out of a UFC 116 bout last July with Yoshihiro Akiyama (a fight that ultimately went to Leben), then he went in for knee surgery that kept him on the shelf for four months. It wasn’t an easy time for someone who had made fighting his life, but he managed to stay busy.
“I was hurt and had a really bad injury,” said Silva, who makes his home in Las Vegas, “but now I feel good, my knee is better, my ribs are better, and I was out but I didn’t stop working. I made a lot of appearances, I worked in my gym, I spent time with my family, and I used the time for good things. I stopped training for four months and after that I would train once a day, after that two times a day, and now I’m back to my regular routine. It’s not so easy, the fighter’s life. It’s very hard to get ready for a fight, but I feel really good, I trained really hard, and I know I’m gonna give a great show for the fans.”
And even though this is his second go-round at 185 pounds, he laughs when asked if it’s been easier cutting down for Leben.
“No, not so easy,” said Silva. “I (originally) dropped from 225 and right now I have a really hard diet and I need to train hard. It’s not so easy. It’s like the first fight (with Bisping). When I checked the weight and made 185, it was my first victory. (Laughs) Especially right now, I’m gonna be 35 years old, and when you’re that age, sometimes it’s not so easy to lose a lot of weight.”
He has had plenty of good training partners and coaches to push him though, most notably his former coach at the Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil, Rafael Cordeiro, and an old friend who stopped in for a couple days at Cordeiro’s gym in Southern California, former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
“He has unbelievable talent,” said Silva of Rua. “He has a natural talent, he’s so strong, and I’m so happy to train with him again. I trained with him for 10 years back in Brazil, and now we’re back to train together, and I think if he continues training with Cordeiro, he can be champion again.”
It’s almost like old times for the trio that terrorized Japan back in the PRIDE days with a Muay Thai-based attack that left opponents either cowering in a corner or face down on the canvas. Silva smiles at the recollection.
“The old days with the same coach,” he said. Cordeiro is an unbelievable coach and he has a unique system. “Shogun” trained with him from white belt to black belt in Brazil; he’s a pure Cordeiro student. I’ve been training with him for 17 years, and he’s great. I love his system, I like the energy he gives to training, and his talent. He knows how to get us the victory.”
Cordeiro led Silva to his three round decision win over Bisping in Australia, and despite two previous setbacks against Rich Franklin and Quinton Jackson, “The Axe Murderer” is one win away from even bigger fights, and dare we speculate, a title shot is he keeps winning?
“I need to look at my performance,” said Silva. “If I have a good performance, one day I’ll go back to fighting for the title. This is what I want but I can’t talk about that right now because I have to go out and put on a really good show. If I do that, I know the boss will give me the chance one more time again.”
Yeah, it’s been a long 16 months waiting to see Wanderlei Silva in action again. How long? Silva thinks he might get overwhelmed the first moment he hears the fans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena cheering for him Saturday night.
“I think I’m gonna start crying,” he laughs. “I’m one guy inside the gym. Inside the gym I’m doing good, I have the technique, I have the cardio, all things. But in front of my public, they give me energy and motivation. For the guy to beat me inside the Octagon in a real fight, he’s going to need to kill me because I’m going to kill or die. I never fight in the middle.”
There's No Middle Ground for Wanderlei Silva
“Every time you see one guy fighting hard, giving his all, and not being afraid to lose, you say ‘man, this guy fights like Wanderlei Silva.’ And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but every time you make the fans happy.” - Wanderlei Silva