In an arresting piece produced by the UFC leading up to his fight against Chris Leben at the recent UFC 132, Wanderlei Silva ventures the path of both the grateful and the devoted. If conscious of the result, the viewer knows the fight’s vicious conclusion all the while watching a man live the life and put in the work for the sake of reclaiming his career after a 16-month absence from the cage. All of it only to fall within the opening seconds of the very first round, the man appears gracious when the fight is over, regretting the outcome while finding solace in his life as a whole. He then appreciates the opportunity to overcome another challenge.
The video sees Wanderlei speaking his native Portuguese, which is a contrast to many of the interviews he gives present day. This piece is about him and his journey, while still front and center to the camera, he melts off the final pounds before weigh-ins, and he spends time with his kids. He sees within sight the culmination of over a year of training, surgeries, and flavors of trash talk by the polarizing Chris “The Crippler” Leben.
The fight itself plays out like two men standing in an elevator, both holding machine guns. Wanderlei covers the length of the octagon, throws his winging hooks, his face trademark from years past as if he smells the blood of his enemy. The shot connects, stumbling Leben back a step. He swarms. Leben responds with a shot of his own, sending Wanderlei to a panic. His Chute Boxe instincts say ‘return fire’ rather than to keep distance and clear his head. The man’s a warrior. He reaches for a Thai clinch like the ledge of a cliff, but he falls to his doom in front of the world. Leben rattles off uppercuts in tight-space to the lagging “Axe Murderer.” The man succumbs to strikes, dropping facedown to the sand of the coliseum, still taking shots until the ref sees appropriate. The crowd both savage and stunned, conflicted, watching on as an icon loses the quick-draw while playing witness to the pandemonium they seek and crave.
“I’m having a taste of everything a fighter can pass through in his career. I’m being put to the test. It’s that story; the true warrior is the one who doesn’t give up. You have to go through hardship to know if you will give up or not. I’m still here,” Wanderlei says. “I’m in one piece. I will come back as soon as the event invites me. I hope to fight soon. To try to feel the taste of victory. The Silva family never gives up. I will show you all that I never give up. I will be ready for the next.”
He goes on. “I left the event and I came home feeling so angry and bitter. Then I
realized if I had won, I would be thanking God. So I went down on my knees to thank God for giving me the strength to fight again. It had been emotional to be back in there again [after such a long layoff].
No retirement talk. No acknowledgement of a world which many believe to have passed by the former-Pride champion. He still believes he can do it. He still believes he can show us his former self and compete at the top of the sport.
“The fans and everything… I just wanted to give a good performance. But to fight again after 16 months [off] was already a victory… I want to show everybody that I still can. I will go back to training. That is my life.”
Wanderlei has been compared to many of his contemporaries from Pride. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Noguiera has suffered losses from strikes in two of his last three fights. Mirko Cro Cop has been knocked out cold in two straight, both less than 90 seconds from fight’s end. In Strikeforce, the invincible Fedor Emelianenko has been finished twice in a row. Even friend and training partner Mauricio “Shogun” Rua lost his UFC championship to Jon Jones this last March in the first true TKO loss of his career. Shogun himself suffered a year-long layoff, having injured his knee yet again in a career now-plagued by knee injuries.
What results is a crop of new fighters to whom, while they respect the feats of those Pride-veterans who fought for glory in the bright lights of Japan, the mystiques of those champions seem to fade one knockout at a time, making them less of a class of title contenders, though there are exceptions, and more of an expired era worthy of reverence and commemoration.
This notion shared by fans across the world may be premature, and many of these men have high-profile fights within the next few months which afford them the chance to get on track, but no matter what happens amid the murk and madness of mixed martial arts, Wanderlei, and those like him, are the rarest of breeds, and they will be remembered as such. If fighters had statues, it is within assertion that Wanderlei would have his sculpted first, grimacing at his opponent, ready to welcome him to a world less-civilized than the one from which he came; a world less civilized but infinitely more simple, where the rules of man and survival coalesce, and where champions were made and honored.
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