Thursday, November 17, 2011

UFC 139: The Pride Champ

Silva lasted only a couple of seconds before being knocked out by Chris Leben.

The past year MMA has seen a lot of change over. Legends of the sport have moved on to prevent them from waking up to arena lights with their back on a Safe Auto advertisement. Chuck Liddell, Mirko Cro Cop, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, and possibly BJ Penn and Matt Hughes have either walked away from the sport that made them famous or were forced to no longer compete at the top level.

Saturday night at UFC 139, the song might remain the same as Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva steps into the octagon to face Cung Le (yes, Cung Le put together spells "cungle") making his UFC debut. While the idea of Wandy’s prolific fight career come to an end at the hands feet of a guy with an IMDb page is a tough one to accept, but it’s a reality that many will have to brace for.

Any fighter and any person can be removed from consciousness if hit "on the button" as UFC commentator Joe Rogan aptly describes it. So losing by KO isn't as much the issue as is the fact that while most fighters' button is the chin or behind the ear, Silva's has become his entire face. Silva came up fighting in bare-knuckle street fights on the, little redundant but, streets of Brazil. He started organized fighting at a very young age in Pride, swung by the UFC when it was still in its infancy, and continued to hard charge his way through the toughest guys in MMA for a decade. And when he wasn't being paid to fight, he was sparring in the roughest MMA gym on the planet, Chute Boxe. Housing some of the craziest Brazilians in the area. 

35 years old.
As the wear and tear and physical abuse mounted on Silva, he still kept his straight forward, vicious striking approach to curb many opponents he faced. However, by the time he joined the UFC after it bought out Pride, the sport was different that what he knew. The fighters were more skilled and diverse in their attacks. Defensive striking became just as important as offensive, and any one that was a one dimensional fighter that left their chin out there was toast. 

While Silva began to realize this and change his training and regiment to become a more contemporary fighter, when the octagon door closed, his natural venom and desire to please the fans overwhelmed anything his coaches and training could have taught him. You don't get nicknamed the Axe Murderer for nothing. The beginning of the end was when he suffered a devastating KO at the hands of Quentin "Rampage" Jackson, who like Silva is primarily a striker. Silva had a game plan to utilize his kicks and pick his spots against Rampage, but wouldn't you know it, within minutes he was trading hooks and ending up on the losing end. 

He just could not change his mentality that he's had since he was a teenager in Brazil, it was all he knew.

It's not unusual for an athlete's body to give out on him. Many times it's the first thing to go. At that point, when an athlete has had a long career professionally succeeding at the highest level the mental side becomes so much stronger. Every athlete that's retired and tried to come back has done so not because he or she can run faster, jump higher, or throw a ball harder than when they were 22, but because their brain tells them they can still do this. In the lead up to this Saturday, Silva is still mentally convinced he is capable of continuing to fight.

“It happened to [Cain] Velasquez last week,” Silva said. “You never know. In the first two minutes, everybody has power. The gloves are very small. “[Leben] punched me in the ear and after that first punch, I didn’t see nothing. I’ve had a couple knockouts, but I feel good. I receive punches stronger than that in the gym and I’m here, you know?” 


For someone that has meant so much to the sport and someone that wants to deliver for himself and his fans, we all want to see Wanderlei end things on his terms and his way. We want him to score that last KO and hop on the fence like he did against Keith Jardine. We want that to happen for him, but Silva knows it will happen. 

A KO loss to Cung Le would hardly be the way any MMA fan would want the Axe Murderer to go out, but should that happen, then the UFC, Dana White, and hopefully Silva himself will realize it's time to go. But maybe...just maybe..he'll get that KO he's searching for.

We're all hoping to see this on Saturday.

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