Wanderlei Silva (right) has a lot on his plate entering 2012. | Photo: Sherdog.com
He may be in the twilight of his remarkable career, but on Nov. 19 in San Jose, Calif., former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Wanderlei Silva broke out some vintage material and gave longtime MMA fans a taste of the days when “The Axe Murderer” was in his prime.
Silva put away former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le on second-round knees and punches in the UFC 139 co-main event. Though many have called for the Brazilian icon to retire, his latest triumph served as a springboard into a coaching stint opposite Vitor Belfort on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” Once the season wraps, the two will collide in a long-awaited rematch. Belfort blasted through Silva in 44 seconds at UFC 17.5 in 1998.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Silva discusses his forthcoming role on “The Ultimate Fighter,” his relationship with Belfort and his thoughts on everything from the rise of reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones to the continued success of 41-year-old Dan Henderson -- a man he has faced twice.
Sherdog.com: What did you think of the UFC’s choice of you and Belfort as coaches for “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil?”
Silva: It was the best choice possible. It will be an excellent program, with the rematch everyone wanted to see closing the show as the golden key.
Sherdog.com: You have always said that you do not like Belfort very much. Do you think your rivalry will be as strong during the season?
Silva: No, times are different. I met him and apologized. Once in Las Vegas, I was disrespectful. I went back to old times and talked some nonsense. Then I apologized and admitted I had done wrong. You have to be man enough to take responsibility. It’s alright now, and we’ll solve it the way we have to: by trading punches (laughs). I have the best job in the world. I can go in there, settle my differences the best way possible and still make some money.
Sherdog.com: Will you return to Brazil with your family to record the show and train for the fight?
Silva: I’ll work it out with my wife and see what we do. I’ll have an apartment in Sao Paulo.
Sherdog.com: You will have the opportunity to train some excellent athletes during the show. What are you expecting?
Silva: It will be very good. We’ll show that we’re able to do one of the best TUFs in history. Each fight will be a separate program. The guys will have opportunities to fight on national television and share their lives. I wish I’d had it in my time.
Sherdog.com: Did you expect to still be fighting and see the day when Rede Globo, Brazil’s largest broadcaster, supported MMA?
Silva: No one imagined it, but all this is because MMA is a wonderful sport and the toughest sport in the world. You have to be fast and strong, lose weight, control emotion. You have to be a super athlete, and the guys are humble people. In other sports, like football, the athletes got started earlier. They have more structure, monitoring and supplementation. I didn’t start taking protein until I was in Pride.
Sherdog.com: You have long been recognized as one of the sport’s greatest idols. What do you expect to hear from an audience supporting you in Brazil, with perhaps as many as 70,000 people in a soccer stadium?
Silva: Oh, it will be great. Hopefully, the stadium will come down. I hope there’s a reception like the athletes received at UFC 134 in Rio. That was one of the best audiences in the history of MMA.
Sherdog.com: What are your thoughts on how UFC light heavyweight champion Jones has performed?
Silva: It has been impressive. [Lyoto] Machida did the best so far. He won the first round and landed more blows.
Sherdog.com: Do you think the fight between Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Henderson at UFC 139 should have been ruled a draw?
Silva: I think so. I think there should be a rematch. I wanted the rematch yesterday. Shogun did not have his best night, although he fought well. He fought with heart. Against Forrest [Griffin at UFC 134], he was at 70 or 80 percent. Against “Hendo,” he was 50 to 60 percent. He stayed in the fight because he’s a phenom, but he was far from his best. Shogun has a lot to revamp in his training. Everyone believes he can beat anyone at 100 percent, so he has to go into these fights at 100 percent. I was sad about his loss. I went into the locker room and saw him hurting. It broke my heart because he didn’t have to go through that. And Hendo cannot take three rounds from Shogun. I’ve trained with Mauricio and faced Hendo twice. Shogun is the most talented guy I’ve ever seen. I was watching video of the Pride Shogun and saw a strong Shogun. Under these conditions, he can defeat Jones. He’s the guy to beat the champion, but he has to be 100 percent.
Sherdog.com: Is Henderson an example for you, in that he is 41 years old and just beat Fedor Emelianenko and Shogun?
Silva: He’s an example for everyone. To do five rounds with Shogun at his age ... I have to take my hat off to him. He also beat [Renato] “Babalu” [Sobral] and [Rafael] “Feijao” [Cavalcante]. I hope I can be like him at 40 years old.