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SYDNEY – If Wanderlei Silva had been anybody but, well, Wanderlei Silva, he'd have received a pink slip from the Ultimate Fighting Championship long ago.
Silva, though, is one of the most popular fighters in mixed martial arts history. And though he's in the midst of a streak in which he's lost five of his last six and has been viciously knocked out in three of them, he continues to not only have a job but key spots on the cards on which he appears.
He'll meet Michael Bisping on Saturday (Sunday in Australia) in the co-main event of UFC 110 in a three-round middleweight bout at Acer Arena. The fight will be his debut at middleweight after a long and distinguished run at light heavyweight. He fought Rich Franklin in the main event of UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany, in June at a catch weight of 195 pounds as he was making the transition downward.
The bout against Bisping will be his first at 185 after he finally conceded that he's putting himself at a competitive disadvantage at 205. He weighed 195 on Tuesday and said dropping the final 10 pounds will be no issue.
"The size of the fighters is so different now," Silva said. "Just a couple of years ago, no problem [facing far bigger men]. But as this sport gets bigger and more popular, guys are adapting. Guys who were middleweights before are going to welterweight. Light heavyweights are going to middleweight.
"It happens all the time in wrestling. It does in boxing, too. The technique of the fighters is so good now you have to be at the right weight to give yourself the most [opportunity] to win. You can't just always go against guys so much bigger now, because we're in a new moment of MMA. The fighters are not only bigger, they're stronger and they have better technique."
Bisping is also a former light heavyweight who has dropped to middleweight in order to fight men his own size.
Size, though, has not been Silva's only problem during his 1-5 run that began on Sept. 10, 2006 in PRIDE with a loss to heavyweight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Punches he used to take well are now hurting him. Punches that would previously wobble him are now knocking him out.
It's a common ailment of veteran fighters. The same thing became true of Silva's longtime rival, Chuck Liddell.
Silva insists he's got no problem with his chin and says he's simply getting hit on the button far too cleanly far too often.
"You get hit here," he says, beaming, tapping the butt of his chin, "and you will get knocked out with as good as these fighters are today."
Silva is legendary for trying to please the fans and bring the arena crowd to its feet with fast-paced, heavy-handed action. It's frequently been at his own expense, as he's gotten caught in wild exchanges that have sent the fans into near-delirium.
He doesn't plan to change that. "This is all about the fans and giving them the kind of show they expect," he says, but he thinks the drop in weight will make a difference.
If his power isn't drained in the sauna as he attempts to lose the weight to make 185, he'll be an extraordinarily hard puncher for a middleweight. He's one of the hardest-hitting light heavyweights and could have game-changing power at middleweight.
He's not among those who question the quality of Bisping's chin, even though Bisping was knocked cold with a single right hand by Dan Henderson at UFC 100. Silva, too, was once knocked out by Henderson and knows as well as anyone how hard Henderson hits.
But Silva said one of Bisping's motivational ploys might backfire and ultimately work to his advantage. Bisping is close friends with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, the former UFC light heavyweight champion and probably Silva's most bitter rival.
Jackson has been licensed as a corner man by the New South Wales commission and will be Bisping's chief second on fight night. He'll also accompany Bisping to the scales at the weigh-in.
Bisping expects it may throw Silva off, seeing Jackson, and Silva conceded it will have an impact upon him.
"Seeing [Jackson] there will make me more hungry to beat (Bisping)," Silva said. "Maybe I'll beat the one and then after, the other. Two for the price of one."