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SYDNEY – It was a joyful week for Wanderlei Silva, who was given a hero's welcome everywhere he went in Australia. The Ultimate Fighting Championship star was given a nearly unprecedented standing ovation at the weigh-in for UFC 110, as fans roared their approval and many of them bowed to show him respect.
On Saturday (Sunday in Australia), Silva shed a few tears after defeating Michael Bisping in a tough, highly technical match in the co-main event of UFC 110 before a raucous crowd of 17,431 at Acer Arena.
A last-second knockdown led to the unanimous decision victory for Silva. Bisping won the first round, and Silva took the second. The third was hanging in the balance when Silva knocked down Bisping with one of his patented overhand rights with about 7 seconds left in the fight.
That led to a 29-28 score by all three judges. It also led to an outpouring of emotion for Silva, who had lost five of his last six and then hadn't fought in eight months after recovering from plastic surgery. He had scar tissue removed from his forehead and had his nose rebuilt so he could breathe better. Because of how many battles he had engaged in, Silva found it difficult to breathe through his nose prior to the surgery.
He dropped to middleweight for the first time and was a much better match size-wise. When it ended, all the pent-up emotion came pouring out.
"In life, we all have bad moments," Silva said. "Everybody has bad moments, but if you believe in God and work hard, the good moments are going to come."
Silva went on his losing streak because he kept insisting on throwing caution to the wind and trying to put on the greatest fight in history each time out. He approached a fight like he would a long drive contest, swinging as hard as he could and not worrying about the consequences.
He and Bisping traded nasty words and it seemed almost certain that they would engage in another toe-to-toe slugfest.
"That was a very technical fight and who expected that after all the [expletive] each of them had been talking," UFC president Dana White said.
Bisping, who was cast as the villain and entered the cage to a chorus of boos, worked behind his jab and used his lateral movement. He didn't have a mark on him after the fight and didn't sustain the kind of punishment a Silva opponent nearly takes, win or lose.
Silva nearly choked out Bisping with a guillotine at the end of the second round and then almost knocked him out in the closing seconds of the fight.
"It's tough to lose it in the final seconds like that," Bisping said softly.
Silva likely will get a vacation in his native Brazil and then a bout against Japanese star Yoshihiro Akiyama in his next outing. Silva jokingly begged White to bring the bout to his homeland so he could fight in front of friends and family. White said he may be able to make Silva's dream come true at some point in the near future. The 2016 Summer Olympics are going to Rio de Janeiro, and White said that has increased the UFC's interest in putting a show in Brazil.
Silva would own the country for the week the fight was in town, but it's not much different than the reaction he gets everywhere.
He puts so much of himself into every fight that people love him, win or lose.
"There's losing fights and then there's losing fights like Wanderlei was losing them," White said. "He goes out and fights balls to the wall every time. He's one of the guys who will tell you he's more interested in putting on a great show than anything else.
"The people love him for it. It's what happened in boxing with Arturo Gatti. He wasn't the greatest boxer, but you knew that every time out, he was going to give you everything he had. Wanderlei is the same way."
It wasn't close to a Fight of the Night effort on Saturday, but Silva had nothing to apologize for this time around.
"This fight, I wanted it very badly," he said, beaming. "For a lot of reasons, this meant a lot to me, and I just can't tell you how pleased and happy I am now because of it."