There was a time when Wanderlei Silva was the most feared man in mixed martial arts.
He had a terrifying visage. Before every fight in PRIDE, Silva would stand across the ring and glare a hole through his opponent. He’d clasp his hands and roll his wrists, never breaking eye contact with his opponent’s soul. It felt a little like showmanship, but it was also menacing and threatening and scary.
And, more often than not, Silva would follow up that glare by utterly decimating his opponent in the minutes that followed. He was violence personified, and it made him one of the most popular fighters in the world.
Those days are gone. Silva is still a legendary figure in mixed martial arts, but he’s a fraction of the fighter he used to be. Since 2006, he’s 4-7 in both PRIDE and the UFC. He hasn’t strung together consecutive wins since defeating Kazuyuki Fujita and Ricardo Arona in 2005/2006. Four of his seven losses since 2006 have come by knockout; it’s safe to say his chin is not what it used to be. And he hasn’t competed in the Octagon since his March 2013 win over Brian Stann.
For the better part of the last year, Silva has been linked to a grudge match with Chael Sonnen. It’s a rivalry that goes back several years, with Sonnen consistently poking at Silva and Silva taking Sonnen’s attempts at building a fight way too seriously. Sonnen knows what he’s doing, and the rest of the world understands why he’s doing it, but Silva hasn’t caught on.
They were scheduled to face off at UFC 175 in July, and it seemed like we’d finally get to see Sonnen and Silva settle their differences in the Octagon. Silva committed to filming a season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil with Sonnen. He even attended a press conference in Las Vegas to promote the fight.
But Silva reportedly missed a licensing meeting with the Nevada Athletic Commission. NAC executive director Robert Bennett said that Silva had plenty of time to apply for a license, but he chose not to. As a result, he won’t be issued a license for the fight, and he has been replaced by Vitor Belfort. The UFC's Brazilian television partner Globo first reported the news.
Sonnen said on UFC Tonight that Silva literally ran from Nevada representatives when they showed up at his gym for a random drug test:
Belfort has been embroiled in a Nevada licensing controversy of his own since February. But the NAC confirmed that Belfort applied for a license last week, and he’ll face a full review from the commission on June 17 before his license is granted. If all goes smoothly, Belfort will face Sonnen at UFC 175.
The UFC issued an official statement on the news:
Due to issues related to Wanderlei Silva’s licensing in the state of Nevada, the UFC was forced to seek a replacement opponent to face Chael Sonnen at UFC 175 on Saturday, July 5 in Las Vegas. Former UFC champion Vitor Belfort has accepted the fight with Sonnen, subject to Belfort receiving a license to compete from the Nevada Athletic Commission.
So, what happened with Silva? Did he change his mind about fighting Sonnen? Did he ever plan on actually fighting Sonnen at all? Why would he agree to film The Ultimate Fighter with Sonnen if he had no intention of going through with the fight at the conclusion of the series?
These are all questions that need answers. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to receive any kind of satisfactory response from Silva. “The Axe Murderer” tweeted the following:
Silva’s tweet roughly translates to “What’s this? I’m not believing!!” It is difficult to believe that Silva, a veteran fighter with many Las Vegas fights under his belt, was unaware he needed to apply for a license in Nevada. And then there’s this nugget from Ariel Helwani:
I’ve had a hunch this was coming for several months. Sonnen did, too. During an April interview, he shared with me his belief that Silva would end up pulling out of the fight. He even began taking potshots at former middleweight champion Rich Franklin on Twitter. It was a clear sign that Sonnen wanted to start setting up his next fight, just in case his gut feeling regarding Silva ended up coming to fruition.
This is a moment that will leave a permanent stain on Silva’s legacy. Fans love him for his intensity and his willingness to go to war. Now, he appears to be ducking a fight with Sonnen. I hate to use the word “ducking” with any professional fighter, because it is very rarely applicable.
But if Silva accepted The Ultimate Fighter coaching duties and continued to promote a fight with Sonnen while knowing full well that he’d never actually step in the cage with his rival, then I’m not sure how else to describe it. And if he skipped out on required licensing meetings because he didn’t want to take a random drug test? That opens up a whole new can of worms that could damage his career even further.
If this incident marks the end of Silva’s career, then it is a sad way to go out for a fighter who was a true fan favorite.