Always a fighter

LAS VEGAS – Both his eyes remain blackened, a week after one of the greatest fights in UFC history. A streak of blood covers the white of one of those eyes.

Wanderlei Silva is in pain.

But it's not the beating Chuck Liddell put on him at the Mandalay Bay Events Center exactly one week earlier that is hurting Silva on this chilly Southern Nevada Saturday night.

"Here," Silva says, pounding his chest. "This is where it hurts."

Silva lost a unanimous decision to Liddell in a fiercely contested light heavyweight battle that was the equal of any held in the UFC. He couldn't speak for himself after that Dec. 29 bout because the effects of the bout forced him to take a post-fight trip to the hospital for a brief checkup.

But Silva sat down Saturday for his first interview since losing to Liddell and said he was disappointed by the outcome only because he so desperately wanted to win for his fans.

"I'm happy everyone was happy and I helped give them a good show," said Silva, who has lost three consecutive bouts. "I wish there was a way (to have won)."

Silva said he had no argument with the decision and said he felt Liddell clearly deserved to win the fight. He said he was amazed by the way Liddell fought with the same expression and said he was surprised by the power of Liddell's fists.

The difference, Silva said, turned out to be Liddell's reach.

Liddell had much longer arms and was able to keep the fight at a distance. Silva never could close the gap and fight at close range, where he could get Liddell in a clinch and use the devastating knees that helped make him one of the most feared men in the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championship.

They primarily exchanged blows – some of which might have been strong enough to have knocked out a small horse – from a distance. That favored Liddell, who not only repeatedly hurt Silva with his powerful right hand but also showed a strong chin himself.

A fight between men who are among the best light heavyweights in MMA history had been nearly seven years in the making. Silva conceded there were times he thought the bout never would occur.

A week after the rousing bout, he said he has more respect for Liddell than he ever did before.

"He's good, very, very good," Silva said. "People should realize how good, how strong Chuck is. I knew he was good, but he's better than I thought. He's big. These guys in the UFC, they're all so big."

As soon as Silva said that, though, he smiled. He anticipated the next question would be whether he'd consider a drop to middleweight, where the limit is 185 pounds and the fighters are much more his size.

But he quickly ruled that out.

"That's way too much weight for me to lose," Silva said. "I couldn't do it."

Silva, who bought a house in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, said he plans to return to his native Brazil next week to see his family. When he returns on Feb. 1, he'll resume training.

He said he's open to a rematch with Liddell but said he would fight anyone the UFC put in front of him. His goal, he said, simply is to deliver more of the same that he did Dec. 29.

"When you come down to it, that's what it's all about," Silva said.

He said he was amazed by the job the UFC did and said it clearly has grown into the world's finest mixed martial organization since he last competed in it, when he lost a decision to Tito Ortiz on April 14, 2000, at UFC 25.

He spent most of the next seven years as the face of Pride, where he became a near-mythical figure for some of his violent knockouts.

Despite all of the big wins against some of the best mixed martial artists ever, Silva said he never forgot about the UFC because he wanted to keep up on Liddell's progress.

"Everyone wanted to see us fight and he wanted the fight and I wanted the fight, but it just would never happen," Silva said. "It was hard sometimes. You would think, 'I could put on a good show with this guy, but I won't get the chance.' But then (UFC president) Dana (White) told me he would do it and he did."

Silva said he could feel the electricity in the crowd when he left his locker room and walked to the cage for the fight. It only built as the two swapped knockout blows for the entire five minutes in each of the three rounds.

A week after the epic battle, Silva looked back on it and pronounced himself ready to do it all over again.

"I'm a fighter and that's what I do," he said, beaming. "It's my job to do that."