LAS VEGAS – An intimidating visage isn't necessarily a requirement to be a quality fighter. Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida looks like he could be an altar boy, yet he's one of the most lethal men in the world.
Thiago Silva, though, perfectly fits the image of what you might imagine a tough guy to look like. He's the kind of guy who probably snarls his way through his corn flakes in the morning.
Imagine an enforcer and you picture Silva. The enduring image of Silva is one of him sneering angrily and drawing his thumb across his throat.
His last bout ended, as many of his fights are wont to do, early in the first round. Keith Jardine, one of the two best men he'd faced up to that point, was out, flat over his back. Silva stood over the prone Jardine for a moment at UFC 102 in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29 and threateningly pointed a finger at Jardine.
It looked very much like Silva was trying to make some sort of an example of Jardine, though he insists vehemently that is far from the truth.
He felt significant pressure in the Jardine fight, his first since getting knocked out by Machida in the first round of UFC 94. The loss was his first and he carried it with him.
"That was my big fight and I didn't perform the way I wanted to perform," Silva said of the Machida fight. "When I [made a gesture toward] Keith, it wasn't really toward him. It was a release of emotion because I'd finally gotten past that [Machida] fight."
The victory over Jardine was a significant one for Silva, making him a logical opponent for Rashad Evans when UFC president Dana White was looking for a main event for UFC 108 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The card, wracked by an astoundingly high 11 fighter pullouts because of injury or illness, was without a main event until Evans and Silva agreed to meet.
Evans and Jardine are exceptionally close, and Silva's gesture didn't escape Evans' notice.
Silva insists he meant no harm, but he's also not cowering from Evans or trying to curry his favor.
Silva is a fighter, plain and simple, and he'll get the chance to back his actions in Saturday's main event.
"We're professionals, and that kind of stuff isn't going to affect us one way or the other," Silva said. "This is the kind of fight I've been looking for. I want these kind of fights – against well-rounded, dangerous guys like Rashad."
Evans is about a 2-1 favorite in the MGM Grand sports book, largely on a better résumé against higher-tier opponents. Evans has fought far more Top 10 foes than Silva, whose only opponents close to that level are Machida and Jardine.
Still, Evans knows full well that Silva is a legitimate test. Evans has been asked repeatedly about Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the days and weeks leading up to Saturday's bout.
The two were supposed to meet last month at UFC 107 in Memphis until Jackson briefly walked away from mixed martial arts to film a move. But the men had an intense feud that was captured during the filming of Season 10 of "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's reality show on Spike TV.
When Jackson wasn't ready to fight, the UFC turned to Silva. And despite Silva's less impressive list of victims, Evans isn't fooled into thinking he's got an easy night.
"It's all about opportunity – and he's just starting to get his opportunity now," Evans said.
Silva is aware of it and he's determined to make the most of it. He began 2009 fighting Machida on one of the most significant cards of the year. That result didn't turn out the way he wanted. He wasn't as loose or as free as planned en route to being brutally stopped.
Silva ended 2009 in the same city, which was holding a raucous party to celebrate the New Year. But he wasn't willing to party just yet.
He wanted to wait until 48 hours after the big party to hold his own. A win over a respected former champion such as Evans would be huge for Silva, who knows it would vault his career to another level.
"When they asked me about this fight, there was never any doubt or any question," Silva said. "It's a great opportunity for me to prove myself against one of the top guys in the world. If Rashad isn't the best [light heavyweight], there aren't too many who are better. That's good for me because I want to show what I can do against guys like this."