LAS VEGAS – UFC president Dana White was asked during a conference call on Thursday whether he had any special announcements planned for UFC 74 on Aug. 25. "No announcements," White said. "Not unless something crazy happens between now and then."
There will be no announcements – I think – because on Friday, White announced he'd finalized a seven-year quest and signed Wanderlei Silva to a UFC contract.
The question that now must be answered is what exactly did White buy.
A prime and healthy Silva would go a long way toward fulfilling White's goal of delivering "the best fights you've ever seen, anywhere at any time."
But Silva's reckless style is the type that leads to a short career. A pro since 1996, he's already had 39 matches and has compiled a series of highlight reel victories.
The toll of those brutal bouts, though, may be beginning to appear. A light heavyweight, Silva was knocked out by heavyweight Mirko Cro Cop on Sept. 10 in the second round of the Open Weight Grand Prix tournament and then lost his title when he was stopped by Dan Henderson in the third round of a Pride bout in Las Vegas in February.
In the past two years, he's 2-3.
That could simply be attributed to taking on the best competition available, or it could be a sign that his natural decline has begun.
No fighter avoids that decline, when the head and the heart are willing but the body isn't able.
An aged fighter often finds out the hard way that time has caught up to him. His reflexes aren't as sharp and he winds up not being able to land punches he used to, but he also takes shots that would never have hit him previously.
More significantly, an aging fighter who's competed in as many slugfests as Silva is less able to take a punch.
There's no way of knowing whether Silva has hit that spot until he's in the ring again. White clearly has no such concerns, at least that he's willing to express publicly.
"This is the pinnacle of my seven-year career in this company," White said. "I'm so excited to have Wanderlei under contract. He grabbed my arm and looked me in the eyes like one of his pre-fight staredowns and he said 'I'm gonna fight so good for you, you’re gonna see the best fights ever from Wanderlei Silva.' "
White wasn't talking Friday, but barring extraordinary circumstances, expect that first UFC bout since an April 14, 2000, loss to Tito Ortiz for Silva to come on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas against long-time rival Chuck Liddell.
Liddell is headlining UFC 76 in Anaheim, Calif., against Keith Jardine in a bout you can bet White wishes he'd never made.
He had planned to have Liddell and Silva fight on that date, but when a member of Silva's Chute Box team told White that Silva didn't want to fight Liddell at that point, White hastily made the deal with Jardine.
Liddell will be a heavy favorite over Jardine, but Jardine is a heavy puncher. If he catches Liddell and either knocks him out or cuts him, the Liddell-Silva fight may be pushed back even longer, which would be a financial disaster for Zuffa, the UFC's parent company.
White loves big events and in mixed martial arts, nothing would be bigger than the hype surrounding a Liddell-Silva bout on New Year's Eve weekend in Las Vegas.
Unless, of course, a Liddell-Silva bout would share top billing with a heavyweight bout between, say, Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko, the Pride heavyweight champion.
Emelianenko is still negotiating a contract, but it seems inconceivable he'd go anywhere other than the UFC given the company has nearly all of the world's remaining top heavyweights under contract.
A few weeks ago, during an informal telephone conversation with White, I asked him if he'd try to make an Emelianenko-Cro Cop match for New Year's Eve.
"I'd love that," White said. "You'd love it. We're hard cores. But the hard core fans who know who Fedor is are a minority. Believe me when I tell you that. My (UFC) fans don't know who he is. I'd have to build him up. You can't just say 'Fedor's here,' and open the doors and expect people to come in. It doesn't work that way.
"I even had to build up Cro Cop. It's taking a while for us to do that. After we introduce him to our fans, then you can do that kind of a thing."
But on that Thursday conference call, when White was asked directly whether he'd give Emelianenko a shot at the UFC heavyweight title, which will be contested at UFC 74 when Randy Couture defends against Gabriel Gonzaga, he said yes.
Either way, two bouts could be put at the top which would almost guarantee it to be the richest fight in MMA history.
And if it turns out that Silva still has some of the kinds of fights that helped him gain the nickname, "The Axe Murderer," there will be a lot more of those cards down the road.
- Wanderlei Silva
- Dana White