Wanderlei Silva: From Washed-Up to Main Card
As he laid face down on the canvas after a crushing 27-second knockout loss to Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva had to wonder if this fight would mark the last chapter in his storied career.
The devastating defeat left fight-makers to immediately begin wondering if it was time for the beleaguered warrior to hang up his gloves and ride off into the sunset.
Though widely recognized as an MMA legend and a future Hall of Fame inductee, "the Axe Murderer's" UFC career has been unremarkable to say the least.
Silva has had two previously unsuccessful stints in the UFC. He notably lost to Vitor Belfort in his promotional debut and dropped a five-round decision to then light heavyweight champ, Tito Ortiz.
But after time away from the Octagon, Silva returned to the UFC in 2007 with a massive fan following due to his success in Pride, where he racked up a 20-fight unbeaten streak.
However, Silva may have already been showing signs of wear and tear prior to making his UFC return. He lost via knockout to Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović and Dan Henderson in his last two Pride appearances.
Flash forward three years and six bouts from the date of his resigning and Silva's overall record in the Octagon stood at a miserable 3-6.
His only wins came against Keith Jardine and Michael Bisping, and neither fighter was at their prime. More surprisingly, he looked downright mortal in a vicious revenge knockout loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, a fighter Silva dominated in their previous two matchups.
If not for "the Axe Murderer" mystique, Silva never would have been granted the Leben bout, let alone any other marquee fights.
Due to Silva's fanbase, name recognition and magical presence inside the cage, the UFC stuck by him. Over the next few years, he continued to be paired with top-level competition.
Following the loss to Leben, Silva discovered a new level of intensity. He defeated former Strikeforce middleweight champ Cung Le via TKO, then battled Rich Franklin at catchweight (190 lb.) in a back-and-forth unanimous-decision loss.
Both of these slugfests were awarded Fight of the Night honors.
However, it wasn't until Silva stepped into the cage in his light heavyweight scrap against Brian Stann that he showed signs of a return to his former glory.
Silva's conditioning seemed to melt away the years. He glared across the Octagon like a caged beast prepared to rip Stann to pieces.
Perhaps it was because he felt at home fighting in Japan, or because he was still reeling from the tragic death of his father less than a year earlier. Whatever it was, Silva was out for blood and would not be denied.
In a fight that few gave Silva a cold chance in hell of winning, he viciously knocked out the granite-chinned former Marine late in the second round.
The fight was pure, unadulterated excitement for the 9:08 it lasted. Both fighters came to the middle of the cage, stood in the pocket and began swinging for the fences.
Each landed with devastating power shots; bombs that exploded when they connected. Someone was going to wake up seeing stars.
Silva was wobbled early, but showed that his chin could still take a punch. He then reminded all in attendance at the Sitama Super Arena that his fists still packed dynamite.
"The Axe Murderer" rocked Stann, swarming him with ground-and-pound that put him out cold. The cheers were deafening, and in that moment Silva was a fighter reborn.
He was awarded Knockout of the Night and for the third consecutive bout, Fight of the Night honors. Some have even suggested that the bout is an early contender for Fight of the Year.
After the win, Silva's post-Pride star has never shined brighter. Almost overnight, he went from a fighter people wished would retire to one fans couldn't wait to see again.
Hollywood couldn't have written a script any more perfectly for "the Axe Murderer."
Most recently, resident UFC trash-talker Chael Sonnen, fresh off a beatdown at the hands of Jon Jones, called out Silva. The two have a well-documented dislike of one another. It is truly a hatred that burns with the fire of a thousand suns. And what better way to settle it than inside the Octagon?
Both of these combatants have larger than life personalities and are wildly popular among fight fans. This bout promises to be an epic battle between one of the sport's most intelligent grapplers and its most brutal striker.
Two years ago, Silva was lying on his back wondering where he was. Now he finds himself having the opportunity to write another thrilling chapter in his legendary career.
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