The past seventeen months have been the most excruciating of Wanderlei Silva‘s career.
That’s how long the beloved mixed martial arts legend has been away from the cage, since a UFC 110 win over Michael Bisping. He was scheduled to return against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116 last summer, but a broken rib prevented him from fighting.
The injury may have been a blessing in disguise, as Silva had suffered a knee injury in training camp that was keeping him from reaching his full potential. He’d planned on fighting through it, but once he’d pulled out of the Akiyama fight, he decided to have it fixed.
The surgery kept him out of the cage for a long time, but now he’s preparing to step back in the Octagon to face fellow slugger Chris Leben. It’s a special attraction for the fans, a battle between two fighters who are known to toss a good game plan aside and simply go to war in the cage.
For Leben, it’s the chance to face one of his early fighting heroes.
“Honestly, I’m so excited to fight Wanderlei; he’s one of my heroes,” Leben says. ” Believe it or not, but when I started fighting, I used to go get bootlegged PRIDE videos and watch him, to try and emulate what he did.”
Put simply, Leben is the kind of opponent that appeals to Silva’s sense of duty to the fans, or at least his checking account.
“We can make the best fight of the year. I don’t love him, but I love money,” Silva says. “I want the check of the best fight of the night, and maybe the best fight of the year.”
Silva’s priorities may seem strange when applied to any other fighter, but he’s not any other fighter. He became the adored figure he is today by going into the ring and the cage and simply letting loose. Win or lose, Silva’s goal was to entertain the fans, and he accomplishes that goal more often than not. It’s kill or be killed when Silva enters the cage.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have goals. Silva says he still wants to contend for the UFC middleweight title. It’s tough to imagine any scenario where Silva climbs back into title contention before his career is over – especially considering that he’s just 2-5 in his last seven fights – but he insists it’s still a personal goal.
“Everybody wants to fight for the belt. This is the reason Dominick and Urijah fight,” Silva says. “Of course I want to fight for the belt. One day, I want my belt back. But I can’t talk about that right now.”
And so “The Axe Murderer” remains focused on Leben, an iron-jawed slugger who has the potential to end Silva’s night and derail any hopes he may harbor of contending for the title. The danger in the fight isn’t lost on Silva. But like so many other fighters, Silva says he’s had the best camp of his career, that his cardio is off the charts and that he’s the best version of himself that he’s ever been.
These are normal platitudes for a fighter, part of the typical pre-fight banter that comes out when two opponents actually respect one another. In any case, Silva insists he’s ready to go – ready to make another run at the top.
“I want to show the best Wanderlei Silva for my fans around the world in this fight.”