COMMENTARY | It has been over six years since mixed martial arts icon Wanderlei Silva last fought in Japan. Unfortunately for Silva, the 2006 fight didn't go his way when a trademark Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic head kick knocked him out in the semifinals of the Pride Fighting Championships Openweight Grand Prix at the Saitama Super Arena.
Silva has fought nine times since then, and heading into his March 2 middleweight bout with Brian Stann at UFC on Fuel TV 8, one has to wonder: Will the once-unbeatable Brazilian's return to Saitama, Japan, be his final appearance in the cage?
In a 2012 interview with Sherdog.com, Silva was asked if he would be able to fight on the UFC's future card in Japan, where he's still revered by fans today.
"I would like to fight in Japan again, perhaps for my last fight," he said. "It's a dream to fight back there, where I made my whole career. I made my life there. I hope to fight again for the people of Japan, because I have many fans there and it's a country that I respect. It has a culture that I respect very much. It would be a privilege to fight back there."
Since the interview, the six-time Pride FC champion was not only added to the card, he was asked to headline it, setting the stage for a homecoming the could become his swan song for numerous other reasons.
Age"The Axe Murderer" is now 36 years old, but it's a battle-hardened 36. Silva made his professional debut in 1996, and has since amassed a 34-12-1 record, including 24 knockouts. He was undefeated from Aug. 12, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2004, when he lost to Mark Hunt -- also in Saitama.
But his record doesn't include countless other fights: street brawls in Brazil and sparring sessions with some of history's elite fighters during the Chute Box days.
Silva has taken so much damage over the years, he turned to reconstructive surgery in 2009 to repair damage to his face and aid his breathing. Some of that damage included injuries suffered during his 2006 meeting with Cro Cop, according to his video blog.
RecordSilva has never been one to back away from big fights. His fearlessness and tenacity coupled with Muay Thai mastery made him one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
During his prime, he recorded wins against Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Ricardo Arona -- all legends.
Additionally, Silva fought Tito Ortiz and Vitor Belfort in the UFC's early days before rejoining the promotion full-time in 2007. Since returning to the organization, Silva is 3-5 in the UFC (4-7 all-time). Those five losses came to fellow stars Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin twice, Jackson, and Chris Leben.
Regardless, it's a record that draws concern, especially in lieu of Jon Fitch's recent release. Granted, Silva's earned five UFC fight-night bonuses, so a potential release couldn't be blamed on boring fights.
Rising StarsThe sport is always evolving and always attracting new talent. While Anderson "The Spider" Silva continues to reign over the middleweight division, the weight class has been invigorated by rising stars such as Chris Weidman, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold and Mark Munoz, all ranked in the top 10 of the UFC's latest middleweight rankings.
Though not ranked, there is no doubt that Stann is also a fighter on the rise. The former Marine presents a variety of challenges for Wanderlei Silva, and a win could vault the American up the rankings.
Silva has accomplished too much to become a gatekeeper, even if it's in the world's largest promotion. During its heyday, Pride FC was the premier organization. It was purchased by Zuffa in 2007 and rolled into the UFC.
It was a turning point for other former Pride FC stars who are set to fight at UFC on Fuel TV 8. Hunt and Takanori Gomi will receive a hero's welcome at Saitama Super Arena, but neither's will compare to Silva's reception. Not for one of the most feared men to step through the white ropes of the Pride FC ring.
Making his loss to Cro Cop just a distant memory could be the perfect way to go out on top.
Main Card:Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve
Takanori Gomi vs. Diego Sanchez
Hector Lombard vs. Yushin Okami
Mizuto Hirota vs. Rani Yahya
Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Preliminary Card:Riki Fukuda vs. Brad Tavares
Bryan Caraway vs. Takeya Mizugaki
Cristiano Marcello vs. Kazuki Tokudome
Alex Caceres vs. Kyung Ho Kang
Marcelo Guimaraes vs. Hyun Gyu Lim
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.