Believe it or not, there was a time—not that long ago, either—when Thiago Silva was one fight away from a crack at 205-pound gold.
He ended up getting knocked out by Lyoto Machida that night, before battling injury and suspension on the way to missing a bunch of time over the subsequent couple of years.
He is now fighting Stanislav Nedkov on FUEL TV.
That's not exactly how it should have played out for the savage Brazilian, who remains among the nastiest and most entertaining men in his division.
That layoff, coupled with a winless run that started after he thrashed Keith Jardine in 2009, has left people with questions. Here are four such questions.
He’s not an old man by any stretch, but people have to wonder what Silva has left in the tank after being worn down in recent years. It seems like any time we’re in a position to ask questions of a fighter going into a fight, this one comes up, and Silva is no different.
He was top-five not that long ago, and almost beat Rashad Evans with a serious back injury at UFC 108. The skills exist for him to contend, it’s just a matter of whether or not he has the juice to still make them work for him.
Make no mistake, I personally believe he was. He had that rare mix of a guy who does most things well in the cage and who really loves hurting people. In 2009, I would have said Silva would fight for the 205-pound strap before the end of 2010.
That said, even then, many people would have argued against me. With revisionist history and hindsight now at their disposal, their voices will be louder than ever. It also supports the cause that he never actually beat a high-end opponent during his ascent.
Realistically, a loss to Nedkov would surely prove him to have been style over substance from the outset.
There is no doubt that Silva is a vaunted striker, and despite his black-belt level of jiu-jitsu, there are definitely still those who wonder if he can win a ground fight. As they say, there are black belts and then there are black belts.
Nedkov is a deceptively well-rounded brawler who can, if he so chooses, bring the fight where he wants it. It isn’t likely that these two are going to partake in an extended grappling match, but if they do, you’ll see what Silva is made of on the ground.
Truthfully, Thiago Silva has proven that he can hang with tough guys. Perhaps he cannot consistently beat them (perhaps not beat them at all), but he can hang. Every time the UFC has matched him with a lower-tier guy, Silva has beaten them senseless.
Nedkov is lower tier right now by circumstance—an undefeated but unproven fighter who may see this fight as his first true test of his young UFC career.
It’s tough to say what a Silva win will mean for him, aside from the fact that he’ll probably see a step up in competition next time out—one that happens on a card more prestigious than a FUEL event, too.
Saturday night in Macau might be his last chance to make the jump back into contention before the window closes on him, so its safe to say no one is more aware of what a win means than Silva himself.