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LAS VEGAS – James Irvin knew he shouldn't waste a lot of time formulating a game plan to fight Anderson Silva because, he said bluntly, it's an impossible thing to do.
Irvin will meet the world's top pound-for-pound fighter on July 19 at the Palms Hotel in what will be Silva's debut at light heavyweight.
Silva, the UFC middleweight champion, has all but cleaned out the 185 pounders, so is now looking to explore the possibilities at 205 pounds.
It didn't take Irvin long to accept the bout. Nor did it take long for him to realize what he's up against.
"He's a scary, menacing guy," the one-time college football player at Azusa Pacific said of Silva.
Silva is not only scary and menacing, but he's also as multi-faceted as anyone in mixed martial arts. Irvin, a one-time WEC heavyweight champion, quickly understood the futility of trying to map out a technical game plan with Silva.
He's too good, Irvin admitted. Irvin decided he's simply going to go in and brawl with Silva and hope that his size and strength wins out over Silva's speed, quickness and precision striking.
"Since I've taken the fight, a lot of people have come up to me and asked, 'What's your game plan? What's your game plan?' " Irvin said. "I go, 'What kind of a game plan can I have against the guy? He's better than me on the ground. He's better than me standing up. What am I going to do?' I don't have to go in there and beat him at jiu-jitsu or beat him at Muay Thai. I can go in and fight the guy. I'll go in and mix it all together and see if my style works with his or not."
Irvin is a refreshingly honest sort who realizes that the bout with Silva is his chance to prove he belongs in the upper echelon. He's been in the middle of the pack of an incredibly deep division, far below names like Forrest Griffin, Quinton Jackson, Mauricio Rua, Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Thiago Silva, Lyoto Machida and Wanderlei Silva at the top of the heap.
The UFC threw the card together late and put it on Spike TV in a bid to hurt the pay-per-view prospects of Affliction, which has a heavyweight-dominated card it's selling in Anaheim, Calif., the same night.
When Silva told UFC president Dana White he was amenable to fighting at light heavyweight, White began calling potential opponents.
According to Irvin, several big names at light heavyweight turned the bout down.
"That was really disappointing to hear," said Irvin who, like White, refused to identify the fighters.
Irvin was working out on the day the fight offer came, but he'd been ignoring his phone as it rang incessantly. Finally, a friend came into the news with the word he had an offer to fight Silva.
But Irvin had the wrong Silva in mind.
"I thought it was Wanderlei, someone we've asked for ever since he's come here," Irvin said. "He's a guy I'd been really wanting to fight. I thought my style would match up real good with his. I never imagined it would be Anderson.
"He seemed so far out of the picture. I don't really deserve a shot against that guy right now. He's pound-for-pound the greatest fighter on Earth right now. I'm going to make the most of my moment. I'm going to make the most of July 19 and I'm going to bring the best James Irvin I can that night."
The best James Irvin will bring power and physicality. There is little subtly to his game. He's going to stand and trade until someone falls down.
He set a UFC record in April when he knocked Houston Alexander out in just eight seconds. Alexander had recorded several quick knockouts and was gaining a big reputation, even despite a stoppage loss to Thiago Silva.
Irvin had struggled through a terrible 2007 and seemed a long shot to get past the fast-rising Alexander. Irvin, though, insists he knew he would leave Broomfield, Colo., with a victory.
"I had no doubt in my mind," Irvin said. "As crappy as '07 was and as crappy as my year was … in that fight, the same as this fight, I had no stress, no pressure on me. I didn't try to knock him out with that punch. It was more of a statement. I was saying, 'I'm not going to back up from you. You're not going to be the bully in the fight. I'm going to throw this punch at you as hard as I can.' "
Irvin raced across the ring at the opening bell, leaped in the air and clocked Alexander on the jaw. When Alexander collapsed in a heap, Irvin pounded on him until referee Steve Mazzagatti stopped it in a record-tying eight seconds.
Irvin isn't expecting to pull a similar stunt against Silva, but he's just as confident that he'll find a way to win. He said he doubts that Silva will be as quick or as fast as he is at 185 when he puts on 20 pounds. And Irvin is used to taking blows from bigger men, so he said he thinks he'll be able to do what he needs to do to pull what would be a stunning upset.
It may not rank alongside Buster Douglas' win as a 42-1 underdog against Mike Tyson in a heavyweight championship boxing match in 1990, but even Irvin admits "it would be huge."
"I just don't see myself losing," Irvin said. "I'm expecting to take a lot of damage. I'm expecting to eat a lot of his shots, but I've sparred and trained with guys who hit a lot harder than he hits. I'd rather take three or four of his punches than fight someone like Quinton Jackson, who will just knock you out with either hand.
"I don't think he has that kind of knockout power. I really don't think he does. I'm not taking anything away from him, because he's so well-rounded, but I don't think he has that heavy handed punching power that someone like Scott Smith or Quinton Jackson does."