Silva-Leites Official for UFC 97

By Brian Knapp Apr 18, 2009
UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva now stands on the doorstep to history.

Silva tipped the scales at 182 pounds and cleared the final hurdle for his scheduled title defense against fellow Brazilian Thales Leites (185) in the main event at UFC 97 “Redemption” this Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Twenty one of the other 22 men booked to compete -- including former UFC light heavyweight king Chuck Liddell (206) and his opponent, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (206) -- also made weight without incident. Lightweight David Bielkheden checked in at 157, a pound above the 156-pound threshold.

All eyes are on Silva, however. Should he subdue Leites, he will pass Royce Gracie and Jon Fitch in the record books for most consecutive victories inside the Octagon; Silva will enter the cage at UFC 97 having reeled off eight in a row.

“To me, it doesn’t mean that much as far as the records,” Silva said. “What’s important for me is to step in the Octagon and give the public and the world a great performance and to keep my team proud of me and keep the victories coming. It’s important for me to win, but I don’t pay too much attention to the records.”

The sport’s resident pillager, Silva (23-4) will carry a nine-fight winning streak into the match, as he makes the fifth title defense of his 185-pound belt. The 34-year-old Brazilian has not competed since October, when he retained his title against Patrick Cote at UFC 90. Afterward, Silva was soundly criticized for what many saw as an uninspiring performance, which ended 39 second into the third round when a non-contact knee injury felled Cote.

Since he arrived in the UFC three years ago, the muay Thai specialist and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has taken a scorched-earth approach to the middleweight division, scoring one-sided victories against one-time champion Rich Franklin (twice), two-time Olympian Dan Henderson and former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt, among others.

Leites (14-1), meanwhile, last appeared at UFC 90 when he submitted the one-dimensional Drew McFedries with a first-round rear-naked choke. Rooted at the esteemed Nova Uniao camp, the 27-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has won five in a row since he dropped a unanimous decision to Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut back in November 2006. He counts victories against Marquardt among his 14 career wins, nine of which have come by submission.

Leites realizes the enormous challenge facing him at UFC 97.

“I have to believe in me,” he said. “I’ve been working for this chance for a long time. I have two arms and two legs, like him, like anyone else. I know that I can beat him.”

In the co-main event, Liddell will collide with Rua in a bout that carries as much steam as the title fight it precedes.

Once the face of the UFC, Liddell (21-6) has dropped three of his last four and has not competed inside the cage since his shocking knockout loss to reigning 205-pound champion Rashad Evans last summer. Still, the 39-year-old wields undeniable credentials, with multiple wins against UFC hall of famer Randy Couture and former light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, along with victories against one-time heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman, current Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder Renato “Babalu” Sobral and reigning Strikeforce heavyweight kingpin Alistair Overeem. He has also defeated Wanderlei Silva, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort and Jeff Monson.

He expects fists and feet to fly when he meets Rua.

“I’ve said for a long time [that] this is going to be a great fight for the fans,” Liddell said. “It’s going to be a war, and it should be fun to watch.”

Liddell, approaching the age of 40 and admittedly in the twilight of his career, sidestepped questions about retirement.

“I plan on coming out, having an impressive performance and knocking him out,” he said. “I’ll worry about what happens after the fight after the fight.”

Rua (17-3) has endured a stunning and rapid fall from grace since he won the Pride middleweight grand prix in 2005. The flashy 27-year-old Brazilian fought three months ago, when he stopped Mark Coleman on third-round strikes in a sloppy performance that was widely slammed. That followed his submission loss to Forrest Griffin at UFC 76 and two subsequent knee surgeries. Even so, his past accomplishments cannot be discounted. He owns a pair of knockout wins against Overeem and another against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson -- the only man to defeat Liddell twice.

Many believe a loss to Liddell might mark the end of his UFC career.

“I trained very hard for this fight,” Rua said. “It’s a very important fight for me. I trained much harder for this fight. I feel much more prepared, physically and psychologically.”

UFC 97 “Redemption”
Saturday, April 18
Bell Centre
Montreal

UFC Middleweight Championship

Anderson Silva (182) vs. Thales Leites (185)

Chuck Liddell (206) vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (206)
Cheick Kongo (232) vs. Antoni Hardonk (249)
Luis Arthur Cane (206) vs. Steve Cantwell (205)
Brian Stann (206) vs. Krzysztof Soszynski (204)
Eliot Marshall (205) vs. Vinny Magalhaes (204)
Denis Kang (185) vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam (185)
Jason MacDonald (186) vs. Nate Quarry (186)
Ed Herman (186) vs. David Loiseau (185)
Mark Bocek (154) vs. David Bielkheden (157)
T.J. Grant (169) vs. Ryo Chonan (171)
Sam Stout (155) vs. Matt Wiman (155)
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