LAS VEGAS – The last time Anderson Silva clowned around in the octagon, Chris Weidman dropped him on his back and took away his UFC middleweight title.
Although Silva is serious about getting his belt back in the main event at UFC 168 tonight, the Brazilian won’t say whether he’ll drop the carefree style that has defined his career.
At UFC 162 last July, Silva (33-5) was pretending to be hurt when Weidman (10-0) actually cold-cocked him for a stunning victory. The result upended the MMA hierarchy, catapulting Long Island’s Weidman to stardom and ending Silva’s near seven-year title reign.
“Maybe I have the chance to change things,” Silva said at his gym in Torrance, Calif., this month.
Silva believes he can reverse the result in the rematch, but he won’t swear off the taunting and goofiness that has become his signature alongside his unmatched striking abilities. In fact, Silva doesn’t even see his style as anything less than serious.
“When I go inside the ropes for a fight, I don’t joke,” said the fighter known for standing with hands on hips and chin protruding, daring opponents to hit him.
“I train hard mentally for this fight,” Silva added. “I watched the last fight, and I see my technique, and I talk to my friends and coach. I don’t train too much. My mental (approach), I change. It was bad.”
The 38-year-old Silva’s attempt to right a late-career mistake is the most intriguing aspect of the UFC’s traditional year-end show at the MGM Grand Garden, but it’s hardly the only attraction on a stacked pay-per-view card.
Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will be nothing but serious when she returns to the cage after a 10-month absence for a rematch with Miesha Tate, her despised rival. Veteran heavyweights Josh Barnett and Travis Browne also meet on the main card.
While Rousey (7-0) is one of the UFC’s biggest stars, she already beat Tate (13-4) with her signature armbar in the Strikeforce promotion last year. All eyes in Vegas will be focused on Silva, an even bigger star who put his career at a crossroads with his loss to Weidman, a formidable wrestler who proved his striking skills with that left hook to Silva’s head.
Yet Ed Soares, Silva’s longtime manager, doesn’t expect Silva to fight stiffly or formally in the rematch.
“Why would he change? He wouldn’t change,” Soares said. “It’s him. It’s like asking Kobe not to shoot a certain way.”
Under normal circumstances, the method of Weidman’s victory – a second-round knockout of a long-reigning champ – would have cemented the Hofstra alumnus as a major star. And while Weidman has grown in stature, Silva’s silly mistake got even more attention than the man who forced it.
Yet Silva isn’t among those discounting Weidman’s achievement and expecting Silva to resume his spot on top of the middleweight division.
“Chris is the champion, and people need to respect that,” Silva said. “He’s a good man. Has a great family. He’s a great champion.”
Silva trained at his gym in an industrial corner of Torrance. Although tucked into a quiet office park behind a refinery next to auto body shops and a telescope manufacturer, Silva’s American home base can be spotted by the Bentley out front next to the big photos of himself.
After two years of training in his self-created American base, Silva clearly has a comfortable life. He could walk away from a victory at UFC 168 with his legacy secure and enough money to watch his children grow up in style.
Silva doesn’t appear to be thinking about retirement, repeatedly mentioning he has eight fights left on his UFC contract. Yet he also recognizes the dangers of his chosen sport when asked whether he would allow any of his children to follow his path into MMA.
“I don’t like the idea of my sons fighting,” Silva said. “It’s too much danger. I don’t have the heart for this. I’m an old man.”