LAS VEGAS – It was, more or less, four years ago, that former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos and Antonio "Big Foot" Silva first met.
Dos Santos strolled into a gym where Silva was preparing for a fight. Silva was wrapping his hands before beginning training. As he did, he was softly singing a popular Brazilian lullaby.
From that day forward, dos Santos has referred to Silva as "The Lion," in homage to the opening lines of the song, "O Leaozinho," which, roughly translated from Portuguese, goes:
I really like seeing you, little lion/Walking under the sun/I really like you, Little Lion/To un-sadden, Little Lion, my oh so lonely heart/
The two massive men who may have to fight each other one day were seated across the table from each other. As they discussed the song, they each beamed widely, clasped hands and began to softly sing it.
They were in Las Vegas to formally announce UFC 160, which will be held on May 25 at the MGM Grand Garden.
Silva will rematch with Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title in the main event, while dos Santos faces Mark Hunt in the co-main.
As close as they are, however, they will have no hesitation about fighting each other should both win. If Silva defeats Velasquez – which would be a massive turnaround given he was pounded out in one round by Velasquez in a non-title bout at UFC 146 – and dos Santos gets by Hunt, they'll fight each other.
Though they are teammates and close friends, it wouldn't be a hesitation, dos Santos said.
"For the title, we are going to fight," dos Santos said. "We are good friends, and we are part of the same team, but for the title, he has to think about his family and his things and I have to think about my family. So, we'd fight."
Teammates are often adverse to fighting in MMA, and that often leads to matchmaking problems. When there are multiple top fighters in the same weight class in the same gym, it creates a major issue.
Silva, though, agreed with dos Santos. He said he wouldn't fight his buddy in a non-title match, but said if it were for the belt, he would do it without complaint.
"We are professionals," Silva said. "I have my family; my life is very expensive. And after the fight, it won't matter who wins, we're going to celebrate, because the belt will be in Brazil."
Before that can happen, though, Silva needs to get past Velasquez, and that will be no easy task.
When they met at UFC 146, Velasquez was coming off the only loss of his career, a first-round knockout at the hands of dos Santos, and was highly motivated.
He burst from the corner and was in command all the way. He caught an early Silva kick, took him down and never let him up. He pounded away with punches and elbows, opening a nasty gash between Silva's eyes that took 15 stitches to close.
"Every morning I get up and look in the mirror, I'm reminded of Cain Velasquez," Silva said. "I see this big, ugly scar."
He joked that part of his plan in the rematch will be "no kicks," but he clearly needs to make some sort of adjustment. He said he was very nervous, competing in his first UFC fight, but Velasquez's wrestling also had to be worrisome for him.
Dos Santos, who lost a one-sided five-round decision to Velasquez at UFC 155 in December, said Silva cannot afford to let Velasquez attack without making him pay.
"He has to put some pressure on him," dos Santos said. "You can't wait for Cain Velasquez too much. You have to go out there and beat him. You have to go out and put some pressure on him [and make him back up]. I really believe that's what it takes. We've talked about this already and I believe [Silva] will be the next champion."
If that does happen, it could set up one of the few friend vs. friend matches in the UFC. UFC officials do their best to accommodate fighters who have close relationships, but it could be impossible to do in the heavyweight division with Silva as champion.
UFC president Dana White has already said dos Santos deserves a title shot if he beats Hunt, so it is not that much of a stretch to think a Silva-dos Santos title match could be made sometime in late 2013.
There would be no holding back, each man promised. Dos Santos is known for the ferocity of his sparring sessions, and he said a match with Silva for the title would be "like sparring, but with the little gloves."
Regardless of who may win, they insist there will be no hard feelings and that they will remain friends.
Who knows, they may even get together and sing "O Leaozinho" once again.
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