LAS VEGAS – Anderson Silva has been one of the elite mixed martial arts fighters in the world for the past 18 months or so.
He hasn't been a star, though, until recently.
But on Thursday, the large media scrum that squeezed in tightly to hear Silva's every utterance was symbolic of his rise to stardom.
Fighting talent and box-office appeal don't always go hand-in-hand and some of the game's best fighters frequently are poor draws. But Silva compensated for his lack of proficiency in English in front of an entirely English-speaking media by grinning and grunting and grimacing to captivate an audience that couldn't understand a word he said.
The UFC middleweight champion and the man who sits atop the Yahoo! Sports mixed martial arts rankings will move up to light heavyweight on Saturday to meet rugged James Irvin in a nationally televised card on Spike TV from The Pearl at The Palms Theater.
Silva's manager, Ed Soares, dutifully translated Silva's answers, but had UFC president Dana White been there, he'd have likely told Soares not to waste his time. White has gotten hundreds of suggestions to convince Silva to learn English. White, though, thinks Silva is speaking loudly and clearly by what he does in the cage.
"Nobody buys a ticket to hear the guy speak English," White said of Silva. "They come to see him knock guys the (expletive) out. That's what he does as good as anybody right now. He doesn't need to speak a word if he keeps doing that. Everybody in the world understands him when he's in the (cage) and they see him do what he does."
Silva, who said his normal walking-around weight is between 220 and 230 pounds, first learned of the possibility of moving up to fight Irvin while he was on vacation last month in Hawaii.
Soares said he received a text message from White on June 15, asking him if Silva was interested in fighting in a month. White added a caveat, though: He wanted Silva to take a fight at light heavyweight.
"Right away, Anderson's coaches and training partners were all, 'No, no way, it's too soon. You can't do that,' " Soares said. "But as soon as Anderson heard about it, he said, 'Of course.' "
Silva had been bugging White for some time to keep him busier. Silva fought three times in 2007 and has had only one fight so far in 2008.
When White decided in mid-June to put on a card and air it on basic cable television to counter the pay-per-view event in Anaheim, Calif, the same night being put on by Affliction, he recalled Silva's words.
Silva, who is on a seven-fight winning streak, jumped at the opportunity.
"I'm an employee of the UFC and I also feel I'm a family member of the UFC and it was a personal favor to Dana White to take this fight at this weight," Silva said. "Being part of the team and part of the family, I felt it was my duty to step up and represent the UFC and do what they needed me to do."
Silva is an astronomical 6 1/2-1 favorite at the Palms sports book. And while he'll retain his middleweight belt regardless of the outcome, his spot as the sport's best fighter will likely be lost if Irvin pulls the upset.
Irvin has insisted since the fight was made that the pressure is on Silva. Irvin's reasoning is that if he loses, it can be rationalized that he's meeting the best fighter in the world and there's no shame in losing to him.
But Silva said he's the one who will be pressure-free on Saturday because he's moving to Irvin's class, where he'll likely give up as much as 15 pounds on fight night. "He's the one who's out to defend the (honor of the) 205-pound division," Silva said.
Because both fighters like to strike, it's expected the bout will bring the crowd to its feet for as long as it lasts.
And while there was much talk that Irvin will be the bigger, stronger man on Saturday, Silva would only concede one of those points.
"People really want to see how someone like myself will do moving up in weight and facing a bigger and supposedly stronger opponent," he said, as an ear-to-ear grin creased his face.
He went on to say his goal is to deliver what the fans are there to see. Irvin has also promised to stand and trade punches and relished the thought of trying his hand at the man who has terrorized the sport over the last two years.
"He comes to fight and to try to knock your head off every time," Irvin said. "I respect him for that. I really do. He can be a scary dude. But I'm going to try to be just as scary and if I have to eat a few to land mine, that's what I'm going to do."
Apprised of those words, Silva smiled wryly.
"Good," he said in English. "Good."
- Anderson Silva