Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva silenced his critics at UFC 156 on Feb. 2. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Antonio Silva scored the most significant victory of his career at UFC 156 on Feb. 2, when he shocked the mixed martial arts world and delivered a stirring third-round knockout against former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Now, the 33-year-old Brazilian has his sights set on a much bigger fish: Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez. They will meet in a rematch for the heavyweight crown in the UFC 160 main event on May 25. Velasquez won the first matchup between the two, as he brutalized Silva with ground-and-pound and stopped “Bigfoot” on first-round punches at UFC 146.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Silva discusses his forthcoming bout with Velasquez, his emotionally charged victory over Overeem and the widespread affection he has received from fans:
Sherdog.com: How did you receive the news that you would be fighting for the belt?
Silva: It made me very happy. It represents the fruit of my labor. After the Overeem fight, I was hoping for it. [Antonio Rodrigo] “Minotauro” [Nogueira] and [Fabricio] Werdum were closest to the title shot, but they’re fighting in June. Velasquez was going to be off for a long time, and he’s not a guy who turns down opponents. The UFC then contacted one of my managers, Dan Lambert, and I waited. The fight was scheduled for May, and I’m going there to bring the belt back to Brazil.
Sherdog.com: Does the fact that you faced him recently make it easier for you to develop a strategy?
Silva: Sure. We had a camp for him in the first fight, and we had a good strategy. I just didn’t follow it. Earlier in the fight, I did the opposite of what I trained to do, and Velasquez took advantage of it.
Sherdog.com: Are you talking about the kick where Velasquez grabbed your leg early in the fight, took you down and cut you with those elbows?
Silva: That’s right. My muay Thai coach, Katel Kubis, always tells me that you can’t kick straight, that you have to box before you kick, and that’s what we trained. I trained a lot with Mark Hunt, a K-1 guy, and he told me I was hitting hard, that I was kicking very strong and that I could believe in my kicks. My mistake was kicking without using my hands, and I paid for it. Sometimes, a defeat like that makes you think and revise things. It made me listen more to my coaches. In my last two fights, against Overeem and [Travis] Browne, I did exactly what was asked to do, and the victory came. I had to make mistakes to do things right later.
Sherdog.com: How will you prepare for Velasquez’s takedowns?
Silva: I have two great wrestlers here. One of them is Steve Mocco, who participated in two Olympics. He knows Velasquez and defeated him in college.
Sherdog.com: Considering the possibility of being taken down, how will you train your jiu-jitsu?
Silva: Velasquez is a very good wrestler, so I can’t say he won’t take me down. I’ll train to try to avoid his game, but I have to be ready to fight on the ground and I have to be careful with those elbows. Roan “Jucao” [Carneiro] came here to help me with jiu-jitsu. I also called in Glover Teixeira, the most complete light heavyweight. I’ve got two good guys to help me get prepared.
Sherdog.com: Will you come to Brazil to train for the fight?
Silva: I’ll do three weeks at Team Nogueira. I enjoy jiu-jitsu with “Minotauro” and [Antonio Rogerio] “Minotoro” [Nogueira] and boxing with the guys from Bahia -- Luiz Dorea and Edelson Silva. The other four weeks, I’ll train in the United States for wrestling. I’ll get the best of both countries and of each team.
Sherdog.com: Is it better for you to be facing Velasquez than your friend, Junior dos Santos, since there’s no friendship factor involved with the American?
Silva: I never want to see a friend defeated. “Cigano” is a wonderful person, an excellent professional and a competent, playful guy that everyone likes. Unfortunately, he lost, and I’m hunting Velasquez. It’s important to bring that belt back to Brazil.
Sherdog.com: Since Velasquez beat both you and dos Santos, will you enter the cage with any vengeance?
Silva: No, there’s no revenge or rivalry. When we take that kind of emotion into the cage, we get lost and make mistakes. I fight for my family and for my dreams, and I will not take any feeling of revenge into the fight.
Sherdog.com: Did you not fight against Overeem with emotion and win?
Silva: It’s different, and it’s not good to go into a fight with that feeling. In Velasquez’s case, he’s professional and charismatic, and he has many fans in the U.S., Brazil and worldwide. It’s different from Overeem, who disrespected me.
Sherdog.com: Would beating Velasquez mean more to you than your victory over Fedor Emelianenko?
Silva: Every fight for me is the fight of my life, but this has a special taste to it. It’s for the UFC belt, the dream of every fighter. Fedor is a legend, spent 10 years as the number one heavyweight and had only lost to Werdum. These fights come with different emotions. Both are special.
Sherdog.com: What was your reaction to the affection you received from the public, knowing your victory was celebrated by Brazilians and seeing many fans change their minds about you?
Silva: It was very good. Most times, I enter as the underdog, and I’ll be the underdog again against Velasquez (laughs). We’ll go there, show that nothing is impossible and do a good job. The cool thing was seeing the people who rooted for Overeem texting me and talking to me on the street. They cheered for the guy, but they turned into my fans and believe in me. It’s great to have that affection. Critics will always exist -- that’s normal -- but I’m happy to get these new fans. There will be more positive energy, and I hope I reward everyone with a victory. On May 25, I will honor my country and fight for this belt.
Alan Oliveira contributed to this report.