Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White made good on his promise to land a significant fight for suddenly under siege middleweight champion Anderson Silva, telling Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that he had signed a deal for Silva to face ex-light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin in the co-main event of UFC 101 in Philadelphia on Aug. 8.
Regarded by many as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, Silva has come under a barrage of criticism for his performances in his last two fights, including from White. White said he was embarrassed by Silva's performance in a decision victory over Thales Leites at UFC 97 in Montreal.
That came on the heels of a questionable performance against Patrick Cote at UFC 90 in Chicago in October in which it appeared that Silva was toying with Cote.
White wanted to find a fighter who would challenge Silva, winner of a UFC record nine consecutive fights, and believes he has done it by signing Griffin.
"Forrest loved the idea and said he'd do it right away, and Anderson told me he would fight anyone I wanted him to fight, no matter who it is," White said. "So we got the deal."
The fight will be the co-main event in the UFC's first foray into Philadelphia, sharing top billing with a lightweight title fight between B.J. Penn and No. 1 contender Kenny Florian.
Silva's manager, Ed Soares, said the champion is excited by the opportunity to face Griffin, who took the light heavyweight title from Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in July, but lost it in December to Rashad Evans.
He said Griffin has a complete game and has a big name, which makes the fight more interesting to Silva.
"It's a great fight for him and he's anxious and excited about it," Soares said. "Forrest is a bigger, stronger guy with a lot of cardio and he's the full package. The other thing Anderson likes about it is that Forrest is a big name with a huge heart and is a fan favorite kind of a guy. That's the kind of match that makes a legendary kind of a fight and that's what Anderson wants."
White said he met with Silva and Soares last week and expressed his concerns about Silva's performance in the last two outings. Silva defended his performance, noting that Cote did not attack and that Leites fought exceptionally cautiously.
White called Silva out at the post fight news conference at UFC 97 for backing off as he was pounding Leites on the ground, but Soares said he didn't back off for no reason.
"There was a moment when he was in the half-guard and pounding [Leites] out when it looked from outside the octagon like he stood up and walked away," Soares said.
"Unfortunately, people outside the octagon don't see the fight the same way as those who are in it. Anderson said that what happened was that Thales was covering up well and that in one of those situations, he hit his hand very hard on Thales' elbow.
"He thought, 'Oh man, I could break my hand,' so instead of risking a broken hand that would keep him out for six months if the guy was going to keep covering up like that, he'd stand up and fight him on the feet. But people outside the octagon probably didn't notice that."
Silva made his reputation in the UFC by roaring through competition, knocking out most of his foes violently. He destroyed Rich Franklin twice and also knocked out Nate Marquardt and submitted Dan Henderson.
White was his biggest advocate, insisting there is no fighter in the world close to Silva. And though he was disappointed by his performance in the last two fights, White said he still feels strongly that Silva is the best.
He said Silva will remain middleweight champion and said he thinks there will be viable opponents soon. One would be ex-light heavyweight Michael Bisping, who fights Henderson at UFC 100 in July. If Bisping wins, a Silva-Bisping fight for the title would be a major event.
And White said he is working on signing another middleweight that he would not name who he said "would blow your mind."
"I'm a fight fan like anyone else and I want to see the best fights, too," White said. "Other than the Bisping-(Matt) Hamill fight, where I literally got death threats and people said they were going to kill me if they ever saw me, I got more nasty email about the last [Silva-Leites] fight than any one I've had in nine years of doing this. I got four of them [Monday], personally, to me. I can only imagine what it's like to the UFC.com address."
White said that Silva also expressed an interest in fighting heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who is under contract with Affliction. White has made several attempts to sign Emelianenko, none successful.
Soares confirmed that Silva would like a fight with Emelianenko and said that size wouldn't be an issue. Silva walks around between fights at 215 and Emelianenko fights around 230.
"We'd come in at about 220 if we ever got that fight," Soares said. "Anderson thinks that would be a great fight for him. He didn't say he expected to blow him out, but he thinks he can give him a very good fight."
But long before he considers fighting Emelianenko, he has to worry about a match with Griffin.
"I talked to [a reporter] the day after [UFC 97] and that's when I started working on this," White said. "At the end of the day, it's my job to put on the kinds of fights that you in the media will like and that the fans will want to see. Silva and Griffin is the kind of fight that even other fighters are going to go crazy for. That's what I do for a living.
"I as a fan didn't like what I saw [at UFC 97] and I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted to walk out of the building because of how embarrassed I am. But I can tell you this: I'm going to be counting the days until this fight."
- Anderson Silva
- Forrest Griffin