“I promise violence.”
Truer words have never been spoken by any man. When this mass of muscle and sinew steps into an arena, be it ring or cage, you know that is exactly what he brings: a beautiful spectacle of unadulterated destruction. If he were an animal, he would be a great white shark; a silent predator that smells blood and then strikes, leaving few, if any, survivors in his wake.
He is Wanderlei Silva, the “Axe Murderer.” His stare downs are legendary, his battles always epic. No fighter past or present has ever been able to intimidate the way he does. No fighter has been able to capture the rabid fans' attention as easily as he does.
His fighting style is an MMA promoter’s dream. He comes to bang, he doesn’t care with whom. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt be damned, Silva fears no man on the feet. The fight ring is his block of stone; fists, hands, and vicious knees are his carving tools.
In light of his upcoming third, and most likely final, battle against rival Quinton “Rampage” Jacksonat UFC 92, I have put together a top-10 list of what I feel are “Cachorro Louco’s” greatest fights. While his place in MMA history is already set by these and other great battles, I have little doubt he will give us many more memorable moments before he retires his four-ounce gloves.
10.) vs. Tony Petarra at UFC 20
This fight is significant for the simple fact than it was Wand’s first victory inside the octagon. Silva had come off of a horrendous highlight-reel knockout at the hands of Vitor Belfort just a few months earlier and hoped to make a better showing in this one.
From the outset, it was obvious that Petarra wanted no part of Silva’s standup and spent the majority of the fight crowding him up against the cage. Silva finally found an opening just before the three-minute mark, unleashing a devastating knee that buckled Petarra to the canvas. A second knee knocked Petarra completely unconsciousness at 2:53 of the first round.
9.) vs. Mark Hunt at PRIDE Shockwave 2004
This fight proved to the world—more so than any other fight—that Wanderlei Silva is a warrior. Despite being outweighed by more than 70 pounds, Wandy took everything the former K-1 Grand Prix Champion had and dished out plenty of offense of his own.
Wandy took Hunt down several times, attempted several submissions, unleashed some decent ground and pound, and even landed some solid shots to Hunt on the feet. When the final verdict was announced, everyone (including Hunt) was surprised that Wanderlei was not the winner.
It should be noted that Hunt took the fight on three days' notice. Even so, I am not alone in believing that a world-class striker outweighing his opponent (also a striker) by over 70 pounds should have had a little more impact on the judges' decision.
8.) vs. Eugene Jackson at IVC 10
This fight took place for the (now-defunct) International Vale-Tudo Championships Light-Heavyweight Title. Jackson, at the time, was a major up-and-comer in the MMA world. “The Wolf” was riding a five-fight win streak and had went 8-0-1 in his previous nine fights, to include victories over solid fighters Joe Doerkson and Ronald Jhun.
Jackson was absolutely overwhelmed by the ferocious Silva, and after being the recipient of several knees, kicks, and some absolutely brutal ground and pound, he wisely tapped out at 0:32 of the first round. The fight left Wanderlei apparently unhurt, because just eight days later, he would be making an appearance in the octagon for No. 10 on this list.
7.) vs. Guy Mezger at PRIDE 10
I could write an entire article on the man that is Mezger. Truly one of the most underrated (and, unfortunately, unlucky) fighters of all time, Guy is the Patrick Ewing of MMA. Always good, always a threat, and yet things always seemed to go against him at the worst possible moment.
This fight was an example of that.
Guy started out extremely impressive. He utilized his height and reach advantage to keep Silva at bay. His striking was much crisper than Wandy’s, and he even opened a cut over Silva’s right eye. Guy seemed to be cruising towards either a cut stoppage or an easy points victory.
Then, around 2:48, Guy ate a Wandy right hook. Although he would survive the initial barrage that followed, he seemed to be a bit shaken up. Several more exchanges would follow, culminating with a vicious flurry of punches (and a headbutt) that would leave Guy a slumped heap in the corner of the ring at 3:45 of the first round.
6.) vs. Dan Henderson at PRIDE 12
When Dan Henderson stepped into the PRIDE ring with Wanderlei Silva on Dec. 9, 2000, he was already being dubbed by some as the best fighter in the world. His resume was extremely impressive, having already claimed the RINGS: King of Kings title, as well as winning the UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament.
He had defeated a who’s who of mixed martial artists, with names such as Carlos Newton, Allan Goes, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, Gilbert Yvel, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, to all fall at the hands of “Hollywood.” Sitting at 9-0, most people expected the decorated wrestler to grind down the Brazilian dynamo en route to another victory.
This fight was an absolute war. Silva dropped Henderson to the canvas early on, only to be sent there himself from a big right hand. Wandy, bleeding out of an extremely swollen right eye, would battle back though, rocking Hendo with solid striking and then finishing the round with some nasty stomps and pugnacious ground and pound.
Dan looked like a beaten man as he headed back to his corner, and yet, when the second round started, he rocked Silva early with another big right hand. Dan then exploded on Silva, landing a flurry that had him backpedaling across the ring.
The fight ended with Wanderlei Silva pounding away at an exhausted Dan from top position. Wanderlei took a hard fought, but well deserved, unanimous-decision victory over who, at that point, was arguably his toughest opponent.
5.) vs. Quinton Jackson at PRIDE Final Conflict 2003
When this fight happened, both Wandy and Rampage were coming off tough fights in their semifinal matches. Wanderlei had won a hard-fought unanimous decision against Hidehiko Yoshida, and Rampage had just come off a second round TKO of Chuck Liddell.
Rampage wasted no time, immediately going for the takedown. Wanderlei attempted a guillotine choke but was ultimately taken down by Quinton, who put on a good display of ground and pound, including a nice knee to Silva’s head.
Wanderlei stalled on the ground, and Quinton’s attacks became slower and slower, causing a stand-up and a Silva Yellow Card. This would prove to be Jackson’s undoing, as following the next exchange, he caught a hard knee and a couple of hard punches that began what is now one of the most insane beat downs ever captured in the sport.
The onslaught culminated in Rampage eating nearly 20 unanswered knees, a pair of vicious soccer kicks, and a smiling right hook that led to the ref saving him at 6:28 of the first round. While he was obviously out on his feet, how Rampage survived as long as he did is simply amazing.
4.) vs. Keith Jardine at UFC 84
Coming in with a three-fight losing streak, many MMA pundits were saying Silva’s career was over. Despite being only 32, it was being said that he had been in too many brutal wars to continue to fight at a high level.
Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine was coming into this fight having just defeated former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell and was looking to do the same to the former PRIDE Champion. Indeed, a victory against Silva would not only cement Jardine’s legacy as a “Legend Killer,” it would secure him a title shot.
Alas, it was not meant to be, as a surprisingly quick and explosive Axe Murderer needed just 36 seconds to overwhelm and destroy "The Dean." While I never really bought into the washed up rhetoric being thrown around, even I was surprised at the ease in which the Silva dismantled Jardine. Silva looked every bit the monster he had been back in his PRIDE days.
3.) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003
Having already bested Sakuraba twice before, this fight didn’t have the luster the previous two fights had. Indeed, Sakuraba had gone just 2-3 in his previous five fights, with one of the losses being from Silva. Despite this, the Japanese fans wanted another fight between these two, so it happened at the 2003 PRODE Middleweight Tournament.
This fight is mostly memorable for the way in which Wanderlei finished Sakuraba. While Sakuraba fought surprisingly well on his fight for the first 4:59 of the fight, Wanderlei caught Kazushi with a nasty one-two combo that left him asleep for the first time in his career. Sakuraba had never been knocked out before, and some people feel this fight should have been the last fight in a storied career.
2.) vs. Quinton Jackson at PRIDE 28
Despite being beaten by "the Axe Murder" at PRIDE Final Conflict 2003, Rampage wanted this fight more than anything else. Determined to prove that his loss the first time was a combination of fatigue and what he felt was a premature stand-up, Rampage repeatedly asked for a rematch with the PRIDE Middleweight Champion.
His request was granted, if he could beat Ricardo Arona in a No. 1 contender’s match, which he did with a highlight reel knockout via body slam. This time around, Rampage made a much better showing, highlighted by a hard shot that knocked Silva to the canvas. Rampage then unleashed some devastating ground and pound and looked to have Wanderlei in deep trouble.
Unfortunately for Quinton, the bell would intervene, and he would have to start the second round on his feet. The second round continued where the first left off, but the tide turned on a jaw-crunching right hook that staggered Rampage. Wanderlei, arguably the best finisher in the business, swarmed on Jackson, unleashing a torrent of knees that would leave Rampage hanging unconscious out the ropes at 3:26 of the second round.
Wanderlei showed the heart of a lion and the ferociousness of a grizzly bear in this fight, which is truly one of the greatest fights in the history of PRICE FC.
1.) vs. Kazushi Sakuraba at PRIDE 13
This fight is the greatest victory on Wanderlei’s ledger. It’s his “Thrilla in Manilla”, his Hagler vs. Hearns. The two top fighters on the planet going toe to toe. Believe it or not, Sakuraba was the favorite in this fight, as silly as it seems in retrospect. Wanderlei was bigger, stronger, and younger, but Sakuraba was coming in at 12-2-2, with his only loss in the previous 10 fights being to a much larger Igor Vovchanchyn.
Saku was known for his unorthodox fighting style, solid wrestling, and very high fighting IQ, as well as possessing perhaps the best single-leg takedown MMA has ever seen. Despite being a much better fighter on the ground, Sakuraba instead attempted to stand and trade with Silva.
While he was able to taste success early by knocking Silva down, Wandy took control and laid a ferocious pounding to Sakuraba, leaving him bloodied, dazed, and defeated at 1:38 of the first round.
Sakuraba’s career would never be the same after that. Wanderlei Silva, however, had become the PRIDE Middleweight Champion. He would then begin a reign of terror that would see him go undefeated for nearly four years and 14 straight fights.
When the dust settles on his illustrious career, Wanderlei Silva will be remembered as a great fighter who always brought his best, fought his hardest, and left everything in the ring/cage. He is the true embodiment of the term warrior and deserving of his seat in the Pantheon of MMA greats.