With all due respect to the 1986-89 version of Mike Tyson, from August of 2000 to October of 2004, Wanderlei Silva was the baddest man on the planet.
15-0-1 with 1 no contest during that period, the man dubbed ‘The Axe Murderer’ was a tornado of terror in Japanese rings for the PRIDE organization, defeating the likes of Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Quinton Jackson (twice), Dan Henderson, Ikuhisa Minowa, and Guy Mezger along the way.
Those four years cemented Silva in the history books as PRIDE’s greatest 205-pounder ever, an era the Brazilian is reliving these days as the organization’s best bouts get replayed weekly in the United States on Spike TV.
“It’s great for me,” Silva told UFC.com. “My fans in America watch me in the UFC, and a lot of guys don’t watch my old fights. It’s good for them to look at where I’m coming from, and my history. Now it’s possible and it’s good because now I’m going back to my normal days.”
For Silva, “normal” days are those like he experienced in Japan, when winning was a regular occurrence and when he was entrenched at the top of the world rankings. But when he finally came to the UFC in 2007, he did so with a two fight losing streak that saw him knocked out by previous foes Henderson and Mirko Cro Cop. And though he put on a fight for the ages in a hard-fought decision loss to Chuck Liddell in his UFC debut, a 36 second knockout win over Keith Jardine at UFC 84 in 2008 is the only one in his subsequent three bouts, with two defeats coming against Jackson and Rich Franklin.
It was time for him to make a change, to mix some of the old with some of the new to make an entirely new Wanderlei Silva, one that will take on Michael Bisping at UFC 110 this weekend in Sydney, Australia.
First order of business – drop some weight.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, whether it was against heavyweights like Cro Cop, Gilbert Yvel, or Mark Hunt, or the seemingly endless array of top flight 205 pounders, Silva finally reached the point where the idea of facing opponents who were dropping enormous amounts of weight to make the light heavyweight limit, only to bulk up when rehydrating overnight, wasn’t a wise one anymore. Last June, he fought Franklin at a catchweight of 195, and it was admittedly a tough cut, one that manifested itself on fight night. But after a sluggish start, Silva showed glimpses of his prime form during some heated exchanges with the former middleweight champion, and the decision was made to drop to the middleweight division for the Bisping fight and beyond. So, how’s it going?
“This was the first time in my life I had to make a real diet,” said Silva. “But it’s good for me – I feel good, I feel healthy, I’m faster now, and I’m ready.”
At the time of the interview on February 4th, Silva was already at 196 pounds, and he planned to maintain that weight when he got on the plane to Sydney, leaving the final ten pounds to be cut Down Under.
Next on Silva’s resurrection hit list was a reunion with an old friend from the renowned Chute Boxe camp, Rafael Cordeiro. Cordeiro worked with Silva for a month in the lead-up to the Franklin fight, but this time, the two have been together six months, and the confidence that the 33-year old has in Cordeiro and in returning to the form of his heyday is evident.
“He’s my coach for 15 years,” said Silva of Cordeiro, a former IVC champion. “He’s great because he’s an MMA fighter and good in all parts of MMA - standup and takedowns and ground as well. We have the same vision about the fights, I have a good connection with him in my corner, and he gives me a good way to get the victory.”
With his weight class secure and his corner solidified, the only piece remaining for Silva is the fight, and he will certainly get one out of Manchester’s Bisping, who had a fistic resurrection of his own last November when he bounced back from his UFC 100 KO loss to Henderson with an emphatic finish of Denis Kang.
“He’s a great opponent for my first fight at 185,” said Silva of ‘The Count.’ “He’s coming from a victory over Denis Kang, and I’d put him in the top five in the world at 185. So it’s a pleasure to fight with him. It’s a lot of motivation for me.”
What motivates Silva even more is that Bisping doesn’t shy away from a little pre-fight gamesmanship. And while things have been relatively quiet for the most part, before the bell rings at the Acer Arena, expect that something will be said or done to tick Silva off and put him into ‘Axe Murderer’ mode.
“I love to fight guys like him,” says Silva with a laugh. “Sometimes opponents respect you too much, and UFC 79 Chuck Liddell vs Wanderlei Silvathat’s okay, I’m a professional, but I prefer to fight with guys who talk. It’s better for me, and I love it.”
So does that mean he’s watching plenty of Henderson’s knockout of Bisping last July?
“Yeahhhhhh. I know I’m going to finish him, and after I finish with him, all my great times come back. I really, really need to feel the victory again. It’s really important for me at this time in my career and it’s the reason I’ve been working so hard.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Turning back the clock and giving a new generation of fans a taste of what hardcore fans remember best about the native of Curitiba. It’s a new beginning for Silva, and he knows it, so he’s going to do whatever it takes to keep it going. For him, that doesn’t necessarily mean a title shot right away.
“It’s too early to have a reason to talk about the title,” he said. “I need to know where I stand. It’s my first time at middleweight and there are other guys in front of me. But I know my chance is gonna come back. After two or three fights, the guys are going to give me a chance again.”
At 33, Wanderlei Silva is still a young man. Sure there have been plenty of taxing wars in the ring and Octagon, but at 185 pounds, on a diet and feeling strong, he expects that there is still plenty of gas left in his fighting tank. And for a little motivation, it doesn’t hurt for him to look at another Las Vegas resident, 46-year old Randy Couture.
“My idol now is Randy Couture,” he said. “My whole life I never had an idol in fighting. All the time I was fighting and I saw a lot of good fighters, but there was no one that I said ‘I want to copy this guy.’ But now, I want to copy Couture. He’s made a lot of main events and he’s 46 years old. But every time I ask him about the secret, he never tells me. (Laughs) Maybe he’ll tell me after this fight.”
Or maybe Silva will be the one doing the talking, letting people know just how he reinvented himself as a middleweight.