Silva fights for the love of it

COLOGNE, Germany – Wanderlei Silva insists he doesn’t fear losing. He’s lost nine times in his illustrious mixed martial arts career and understands that if he keeps fighting the best men on the planet, he’ll likely lose again.

What he does fear, though, is hearing the same words from Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White that former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell heard in April after a knockout loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: “It’s over.”

White essentially retired Liddell, his close friend, after that fight against Rua at UFC 97 in Montreal, where Rua stopped Liddell in the first.

Silva, who will fight Rich Franklin at a catch weight of 195 pounds on Saturday in the main event of UFC 99 at Lanxess Arena, has – like Liddell – lost four of his past five.

He realizes it’s a possibility that White will give him his walking papers should Franklin separate him from his senses, as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did at UFC 92.

“I love this sport,” Silva said, leaning forward in his chair to make a point. “Love it. It’s a part of me. God put me here to be a fighter. It’s what I live to do. I love giving the crowd the best fight every time. I don’t want to give this up, win or lose – not yet.”

It’s not like Silva has been facing soft touches during his slide. He was knocked out by Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Dan Henderson, respectively, in his last two fights in the now-defunct PRIDE Fighting Championship. He was outpointed by Liddell in one of 2007’s best slugfests at UFC 79; knocked out Keith Jardine at UFC 84; and then was the victim of a one-punch knockout at the hands of archrival Jackson at UFC 92 in December.

Silva (32-9-1) acknowledges that fighting allowed him to become rich beyond measure – “Thank God, I have more money than I’ll ever need,” he said – and added that he still competes because he’s a showman and lives to entertain the crowds.

Few fighters in the sport’s history have been more entertaining than Silva, a powerful striker whose knees are lethal as well. Getting caught on the chin by a Silva knee is akin to getting whacked in the face with a baseball bat.

He was frustrated by the loss to Jackson – whom he had beaten twice when they were in PRIDE – though not because of the result. He intensely dislikes Jackson (“we’re different people, very different”) and is frustrated because he said he saw fear in Jackson’s eye in the cage that night.

But Jackson was able to land the crushing blow that ended the fight, though he added a few shots on Silva while Silva was out and the referee was waving the fight off. Jackson later apologized, but Silva said there was no need for him to do so.

He said simply that he hopes to see Jackson again.

“I’ll knock him out again and he’ll get it back,” Silva said. “When I knocked him out (in PRIDE) and he was under the ropes, I wanted to pull him back in and give him more.” The 32-year-old said he took the bout with Franklin at 195 as a way of easing into fighting at middleweight, which has a 185-pound weight limit, since he spent most of his career at 205 pounds. Silva said he plans to switch back and forth between middleweight and light heavyweight, though it’s not unclear whether White will sign off on that plan.

Silva expects an entertaining slugfest with Franklin, the former middleweight champion whom he went to great lengths to praise. He raved about Franklin’s power and his conditioning and called him “clearly, very clearly, one of the best in the world.”

Win or lose, he vows the fight will be far more entertaining than middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s victory over Thales Leites in the main event at UFC 97 in Montreal. Even White ripped that fight, publicly questioning his champion and the man he insists is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Wanderlei Silva said he was disgusted while watching the championship fight and said he walked out of the arena after the third round. Anderson Silva and Leites shortchanged the fans who paid big money for tickets that night, he said, as well as those who purchased the pay-per-view.

“One of the things I always do is think of the fans and try to give them the kind of fight they want to see,” he said. “They want to see me trying to take the other guy’s head off, not someone going like this (mimicking Leites falling onto his back).

“People paid hundreds of dollars, maybe even $1,000, for tickets to that fight, and that’s what you give them? I couldn’t take it. I left. I would never fight that way. I promise: I know what the people like. This is our job and that’s what we’re here to do. Go out there and fight and give the people a show.”

Despite his recent losing skein, Wanderlei Silva says he’s as good as he ever has been. He invested more than $600,000 in building his own gym, the Wand Fight Club, which is a drive and a 5-iron away from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip.

It was an investment in his career, one with the goal of making himself better. He hopes to get past Franklin and then help Forrest Griffin train for his Aug. 8 fight in Philadelphia with Anderson Silva.

Wanderlei and Anderson used to be friends but had a recent falling-out – and may meet for the middleweight belt before long.

He doesn’t believe he’ll be the first to defeat Anderson in the UFC, though.

“Believe me when I tell you, Forrest is going to beat him (at UFC 101),” he said. “I’ll be the second. Anderson is a good fighter, but everyone has weaknesses. I know what those weaknesses are, and I’m going to show Forrest. I know Forrest can do it.”

He says he’ll become a full-time coach once his fighting days are over. And though he’s not ready to give it up now, win or lose on Saturday, he said he won’t wear out his welcome.

“I still feel good physically and there’s no reason to quit,” he said. “But I’ll listen to my body. When my body tells me it’s time, I’ll go.”

When Wanderlei Silva goes, though, one suspects he’ll be like the MMA version of Ted Williams. He’ll homer in his final at-bat.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009