When Zuffa LLC acquired Strikeforce and announced subsequent plans to fold its heavyweight division into the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Antonio Silva emerged as one of the fighters who stood to gain the most from the transition.
Silva will make his long-awaited Octagon debut against “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner Roy Nelson at UFC 146 “Dos Santos vs. Overeem” on May 26 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The 32-year-old Brazilian has not fought since being knocked out by Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix semifinals in September.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, “Bigfoot” discusses why a much-talked-about matchup with former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez never materialized, opens up about his training with Team Nogueira and American Top Team and handicaps his place in a heavyweight division that includes training partners Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Junior dos Santos.
Sherdog.com: When did the deal get done for your first UFC fight?
Silva: We were negotiating for a few days. It started with Cain Velasquez, but he had undergone elbow surgery and wound up signing to fight against Frank Mir. So, [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva came up with Roy Nelson, and we agreed to it.
Sherdog.com: Where will you train for the fight?
Silva: I’m in Florida. I live here, and I’m training at American Top Team. Thiago Silva and Alessio Sakara are good people, and they’re helping me here. Six weeks before my fight, I will travel to Rio de Janeiro to train with Team Nogueira.
Sherdog.com: Will you train with dos Santos, who will be fighting Alistair Overeem at UFC 146?
Silva: “Cigano” will stay in Salvador, with friends and family. He will spend more time there than in Rio.
Sherdog.com: Did you start training soon after your shoulder surgery?
Silva: I stopped for two weeks and was released slowly into running in cycling. I started in December, and I never stopped.
Sherdog.com: How do you assess Nelson as an opponent?
Silva: Nelson is a great athlete who’s tough and can absorb punishment. He knocked out [Mirko] “Cro Cop” [Filipovic] and stood against “Cigano” and [Fabricio] Werdum. Beating Nelson is complicated. We’ll meet with the guys at Team Nogueira and come up with a good strategy. My strength and conditioning coach, Andre Benkei, will also help. Nelson only goes forward: one step back and three steps forward. However, I’ve noticed that he gets tired from the second round, although he does keep fighting. I’m going to work on physical conditioning, which will be
important for this fight.
Sherdog.com: Nelson said he would drop to light heavyweight if he received 100,000 “likes” on his Facebook page. Do you think that is the best weight class for him?
Silva: Hopefully, he won’t get to 100,000 until our fight (laughs). I think if he has the opportunity to move down in weight, he should move down. If you can do it without getting sick, I think it pays off. There are several fighters who went down a weight class and did well. If I could get down to light heavyweight, I would do it. I saw Forrest Griffin the week he fought Anderson Silva, and he weighed about 233 pounds. Thiago Silva walks around at 229 pounds when he’s not fighting. And they cut weight very well.
Sherdog.com: You mentioned working with Benkei. Will you be at the gym he is opening in Barra da Tijuca?
Silva: No, it will all be at Team Nogueira, but I can go to his gym for meetings and such. I have doors open to me everywhere. I also have an invitation from Pedro Rizzo to go train with him. The most important thing is having a good relationship with everyone. However, everything will really be at Team Nogueira.
Sherdog.com: How do you plan on competing in a division that includes your longtime friend, “Minotauro” Nogueira, and your training partner, “Cigano,” as champion?
Silva: The march towards the title is still in the beginning stages. I’m crawling. In fact, I haven’t even been born (laughs). I have a long way to go, especially when you consider the belt is already at home at Team Nogueira. Why would I want to rob a brother of mine? If he happens to lose it one day -- and I hope he doesn’t -- I’ll seek to bring it back to us at Team Nogueira. “Minotauro” is my godfather, an example of life inside and outside of fighting. He embraces many causes, the most recent of which was Victor Miranda’s family after they lost their son. “Minotauro” welcomed him and is giving him his full support. Facing him is not possible, but I’m happy with the realization of a dream. I dreamed about facing Fedor [Emelianenko], and I was able to overcome him. Now, I’ve realized the dream of going to the UFC. The next dream is to confront and defeat Overeem.
Allan Oliveira contributed to this report.