On Saturday night Wanderlei Silva will be getting back to what he does best in the country he does it best in; fighting in Japan. Silva is set to meet “All American” Brian Stann in a light heavyweight bout that will serve as the UFC on FUEL TV main event. The event emanating from Saitama, Japan, will be Silva’s first trip back to the Land of the Rising Sun in almost seven years. “The Axe Murderer” last fought in Saitama against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in a losing effort at the 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix quarterfinals.
In those seven years Silva has managed quite the career for himself. He’s brought his fan-friendly style and all-out fighting approach to the UFC. The very same style that made him a mega-star in Japan.
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Let us not be foolish, though; Wanderlei Silva was made in Japan. Recently Silva has managed two impressive wins in the UFC, over Michael Bisping and Cung Le, respectively, but the former PRIDE Middleweight Champion made his name soccer kicking opponents into oblivion from 2000-2006 in Japan’s premiere MMA organization.
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Now, some fights on this “top-five career-defining moments” list may come as no surprise. While perhaps a few may catch your eye. Some moments harken back to the PRIDE FC days, while others you may not even be aware of. Either way, there’s no denying that Wanderlei Silva is one of the most storied and mystified fighters in all of combat sports history. It’s unfair to take such a glowing resume such as Silva’s and break it down into just five moments, but we will do our best.
With Silva set to make a return to his fighting home, and the possibility of his retirement looming on a yearly basis, allow us to present to you the five greatest career-defining moments in the “The Axe Murderer’s” career.
5.) Silva vs. Chuck Liddell at UFC 79, Dec. 29, 2007.
Sure this fight may have come a couple years too late, but that didn’t stop this epic showdown from being the unanimous “Fight of the Year” in 2007.
For years fans wondered what an “Iceman” vs. “Axe Murderer” matchup may look like. Both fighters were far and away the two best at their division and both fought for rival companies. Their fan-friendly fighting style endeared them both to legions of fight fans no matter organizational bias. With their bigger than life personas and their growing records, fight fans were frothing at the mouths for this potential superfight.
They were teased for years at the possibility – most infamously back at UFC 61 in July, 2006, when Silva was brought into the ring at the conclusion of the PPV by UFC President Dana White to announce that a superfight had been signed and that the two would meet that coming November. That fight never happened due to contractual disputes between the UFC and PRIDE but that only fueled the fans fire even more at a potential showdown between Liddell and Silva.
Finally the fight happened. On Dec. 29, 2007, Chuck Liddell met Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79 in Las Vegas, Nev. In what can only be described as a total classic. Silva and Liddell battled back and forth for the entire 15 minutes (shame it couldn’t have been more) that saw both men trade wild haymakers with reckless abandon. Both Silva and Liddell took their fair share of punishment, and both men left battered, bruised, and with a taste of the canvas in their mouths. But when it was all over, and the proverbial dust had cleared, Chuck Liddell stood victorious with a unanimous decision over his long time foe.
The real story after all these years isn’t Liddell beating Silva. Take it from someone who was there that night and has covered countless other marquee events since – main events don’t happen like that anymore. There were no losers in that fight. No, the real story after all these years is the looming question of; how on earth did these two fighters only meet once in their UFC careers?
After the Liddell fight, Silva went on to have seven fights in the UFC (his eight coming against Brian Stann this Saturday), not one happening against Liddell. After Silva, Liddell fought three more times in the company and they came against opponents who were horrible style matchups. It only made sense that these two would meet one or two more times after their historic matchup at UFC 79. It made sense. The fans wanted it. The fighters wanted it. But it just never happened. Oh well, at least we’ll always have Dec. 29, 2007.
4.) Silva vs. Mark Hunt at Pride “Shockwave”, New Year’s Eve 2004
There were a lot of insane moments in Wanderlei Silva’s career, however arguably none more than when he fought heavyweight striker Mark Hunt back at Pride “Shockwave” 2004 on New Year’s Eve 2004.
Hunt, was 1-1 in his MMA career up until this point and was a stalwart in the K-1 kickboxing organization where he made his name in years prior. Serving as a late-replacement for an injured Kazushi Sakuraba, Hunt had to wait for “The Axe Murderer” to accept the fight before the bout was official. Silva had around 24-hours to make the decision. On the line was a 70-plus-pound weight advantage for Hunt, and Silva’s unbeaten 20-fight win streak.
Silva told Sherdog.com about his thought process accepting the fight despite a severe weight disadvantage, “There I found that the dudes went to say that he had the same weight as Fedor — around 105 kilograms. Then they said he had 125 kilograms. There I said, ‘[Expletive]! I got to think about it and I’ll be back with an answer.’ I was in my room and 20 minutes later I was with my mindset, finding that it was possible; I wanted to fight and decided to accept.”
Listen, Wanderlei Silva did a lot to endear himself to his fans over the years. Some we will cover on this list, and some we won’t. But when Wanderlei Silva decided to fight Mark Hunt on 24-hours notice, it put the MMA world on blast, and told any and all who ever thought to question if Silva earned his nick name “The Axe Murderer” to think again.
Oh, and the fight? The fight was a classic. Sure, Silva lost for the first time in years, but it wasn’t without an absolute slugfest being left in his wake. Silva and Hunt exchanged wildly for the entirety of the match. Silva was his aggressive and loopy self, and he paid for it on this night, as Hunt dropped him on three separate occasions. After being dropped, Silva changed his gameplan and took the inexperienced Hunt to the mat and tried to work him over with some ground and pound. When the final bell sounded, the judges saw the fight for Hunt in split-decision. But for Silva this wasn’t about wins or losses (like so many of his classics), this fight was about him showing he was the leader of the “I don’t give a crap” school of fighting.
If you wanted to fight, Wanderlei Silva would fight you. 20-fight win streak on the line, or a massive weight disadvantage be damned — he was there to punch you in the face.
This fight came at the height of Silva’s popularity in 2004 for the Pride organization and it’s one of the lasting memories in fight fans hearts and will forever personify the heart and ferociousness that Silva approached every single battle with.
3.) Silva beats Quinton “Rampage” Jackson twice
Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson met three times in their illustrious career. But for the sake of this article we’re going to focus on the first two times they met from Nov. 2003 – Oct. 2004.
Over that 11-month period Silva terrorized Jackson both in the press and in Jackson’s mind, I’m sure. After their first meeting in Nov. 2003 at Pride Final Conflict, Silva beat Jackson so bad with a devastating array of punches and knees that in the months after the beating, Jackson found a newly acquired relationship with Jesus Christ, his lord and savior.
Yeah. Wanderlei Silva made Rampage Jackson find God.
Jackson was probably thinking that when the two met a second time at Pride 28 on Halloween 2004, that he had a pretty good shot at winning, and most certainly it couldn’t have been as bad as the first time they met. Well, unfortunately for “Rampage” it wasn’t like the first fight – it was much worse. For this time, after getting ahold of Jackson in the clinch, Silva did the fight equivalent of “posterizing” Jackson as he delivered a series of Thai knees that sent an unconscious “Rampage” falling face-first through the ropes. In a signature moment, as a stunned Saitama Super Arena looked on, an exuberant Silva raced towards the turnbuckle of the Pride ring and stood in elation at the bloody chaos that lay below him.
I guess that’s what you get for fighting Wanderlei Silva on Halloween.
Silva may have had more important wins in his career, that’s debatable. But none were more devastating and fear-inducing than the two inaugural wins over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. For many, these are the quintessential Wanderlei Silva fights. They had it all; violence, speed, ferocity, and highlight reel finishes. These were truly the fights of an “Axe Murderer.”
2.) The Sakuraba Trilogy
To fully understand the magnitude Kazushi Sakuraba had on the fight world during his run in the Pride FC organization you had to live it. For his and place time he was Babe Ruth. He was Michael Jordan. The pro wrestler turned MMA fighter, Sakuraba was arguably the face of Japan’s premiere fighting organization during its infancy. He battled the legendary Royce Gracie to a 90-minute unanimous decision at the Pride 2000 Open Weight Grand Prix. He beat four Gracie’s overall (Royce, Royler, Ryan and Renzo) and earned the moniker “The Gracie Killer.” Part unbreakable robot and part MMA-Houdini, Sakuraba infused his own brilliant style and unique fight perspective to woo a generation of fight fans and leave an indelible mark on MMA’s history books.
That’s why he was so important for Wanderlei Silva’s career.
By the time the two first met at Pride 13 in March 2001, Sakuraba was already a bona fide star, having beat former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton, and the four aforementioned Gracie’s. Leading up to the fight, little fazed Silva, especially Sakuraba’s gameplan, “I’m not interested in tactics,” Silva said. “I just care about winning.”
Well, good thing for Silva he didn’t need tactics. Early in the fight Sakuraba, rather shockingly, dropped Silva bringing the Japanese faithful in attendance to a rarely heard roar. That exaltation was short lived, however, as Silva weathered the troublesome opening to blitz Sakuraba a few seconds later with a flurry of knees and punches that brought the hometown favorite to the canvas in a heap. Once on the mat, Silva soccer kicked Sakuraba so incessantly that referee Yuji Shimada was forced to step in at just 1:38 of the opening frame. This fight let everyone know who “The Axe Murderer” was and what he could do to you if he saw fit.
After Sakuraba earned a win over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Pride 15, he and Silva met again at Pride 17 in Nov. 2001. This time the showdown was for the Pride Middleweight Championship. For the beginning of that opening frame Sakuraba did a superb job of controlling Silva’s aggression and at one heart-skipping crescendo had Silva’s neck in a guillotine choke that looked like he may have his sweet revenge. However, it was that guillotine choke that would be Sakuraba’s undoing. With that guillotine, Silva capitalized on a vulnerable Sakuraba, lifting him in the air in a cradle and slamming him to the mat. The fight was unceremoniously stopped at the conclusion of the first round after it was discovered that Sakuraba had suffered a broken collarbone during the slam. This fight would mark Sakuraba’s most impressive performance against Silva and fans are left wondering to this day what could have been after the injury voided any chance at a final round.
Their third and final match came at the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix in Aug. 2003. For many this fight will host the lasting image they see for Wanderlei Silva, as he KO’d Sakuraba in picturesque fashion with a looping haymaker that connected to the chin of his foe and sent him reeling, stiff as a board to the canvas below. This fight made him 3-0 against Japan’s favorite son, and it was the perfect “cherry on top” to end this trilogy for Silva as it catapulted him into superstardom in Japan.
1.) Silva vs. Artur Mariano at IVC 2, Sept. 15, 1997
Every great legend has a creation myth. Paul Bunyan had the five storks, the railroad’s had John Henry, and MMA has “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva.
When your Grandkids ask you about Wanderlei Silva, you won’t go to YouTube and show them clips from the Sakuraba fight(s). You won’t show them highlights from the “Rampage” annihilations. Nope. You’re going to show them the fight that most personifies what Wanderlei Silva was all about – and in a sick twist of fate, you won’t even be showing them a win. Nope. In fact, you’ll be showing them Wanderlei Silva’s first loss.
Allow me to explain.
Wanderlei Silva entered his first no-holds-barred Vale Tudo tournament when he was just 20-years-old. The night was Sept. 15, 1997, and the event was IVC 2 from Sao Paulo, Brazil. The young Axe Murderer entered the no rules tournament after having only two professional fights to his credit.
Silva won his first two fights of the night, a head kick KO of Sean Bormet and a beatdown of fellow Brazilian Egidio de Costa. After those two brutal wins, Silva was primed for the finals of the one-night tournament. His opponent would be Artur Mariano and this fight would change the perception of Silva for the entirety of his lengthy career.
Listen, there are some things that are just timeless. Sometimes a moment is just so insane — so burned in your brain — that you’ll never forget where you were when you saw it. Wanderlei Silva vs. Artur Mariano is that fight for many Wanderlei Silva fans. Never will you be able to watch the Silva and Mariano fight and not be blown away by the sheer insanity and brutality – I don’t care if it’s 1440, or 2075 – when you see a man with a giant gash above his eye repeatedly head butting his opponent with said gash, you’re mind will be blown.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that slip by you? Yes, you heard that correctly. Midway through their showdown Silva was opened above his left eye with a ludicrously offensive gash that sent globs of blood to the canvas below. That didn’t stop Silva, however, as not only did he not quit, he thought he’d use the “no rules” label to his advantage, and he began consecutively bashing the open wound against Mariano’s skull with a series of effective (maybe?) head butts. While Silva began bashing his ER-sized cut into the head of Mariano, a smile cracked across his young, but leathered face.
Folks, the man smiled as he had an axe wound to his head.
This fight, possibly more than any other, is the driving force in the Wanderlei Silva “Axe Murderer” mythology. The insanity of the moment is timeless. It was a bare knuckle, no holds barred, open-face-wound-head butting masterpiece. It set forth a generation of fans who when questioned with, “Who’s Wanderlei Silva,” could immediately run to their VHS, DVD, or computer and say, “ Here’s Wanderlei Silva.”
Silva lost that fight – the first loss of his young career – but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The fight became the first fight stopped by a referee in IVC history, as half of his eyelid was hanging across his face, and he had lost an exorbitant amount of blood. But let’s make this clear; Wanderlei Silva would have kept fighting. And most likely, he would have won. Even Mariano seemed relieved when the fight was stopped.
I once asked Silva about what was going through his head (or wasn’t going through his head) when he decided to headbutt Mariano with his face wound, and he replied, “Eh, Americans….you’re so….blood is blood.”
Essentially, he told me that “Americans” are just fickle to the ways of combat sports and subsequent blood loss. I counter that we’re plenty assimilated to violence, and in reality, Wanderlei Silva is just one crazy dude.
Hence the name “The Axe Murderer.”