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Wanderlei Silva - Legacy of an MMA Fighter and How it all Began

By Cliff Montgomery,
Here in North America, we often don't have the chance to see those Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters who fight in Japan's PRIDE, Asia's premier MMA league. But that's about to change in a big way.

At UFC 61, UFC President Dana White called PRIDE Middleweight Champion (2001-present) and PRIDE GP 2003 Middleweight tournament winner Wanderlei Silva to the center of the octagon. The purpose? To officially announce that if current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell successfully defends his title at UFC 62 against Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Liddell will fight PRIDE's Middleweight Champion Silva in a possibly brutal November 2006 title match.

So who is this Wanderlei Silva--and why should we believe that PRIDE's champion is a good match for Chuck Liddell, one of the best hitters in the UFC fight game?

Silva is a Brazilian MMA fighter whose style is a brutal combination of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. The 30-year-old Silva fights out of Curitiba, Brazil and trains at the Chute Boxe Academy under Rudimar Fedrigo.

Silva possesses an immensely aggressive style; the majority of his fights have either ended in a knockout or referee stoppage due to his brutal strikes. In the ring, he is known for banging opponents with a combination of punches and knees while in the Muay Thai clinch. When the rules do not expressly forbid it, Silva has also become known for kicking and stomping downed opponents while holding the ring ropes.

Silva's Brazilian nickname is "Cachorro Louco"--"Mad Dog"--which is partly due to his aggressive fighting style, and partly to the vicious way he stares at his opponents just before the beginning of his fights.

Wanderlei's "hard-ass" style is actually rooted in old-fashioned street brawling; this straightforward aggressiveness is tempered with elements of Muay Thai and kickboxing.

His story begins in his late teens, when Silva joined the military and was quickly recognized for his fighting talents. In fact by the time Silva had enlisted, he had already won teen fight tournaments in Brazil.

Wanderlei's first professional MMA match was on November 1, 1996, at the Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting (BVF) organization. There he knocked out Dilson Filho with a flurry of punches. Silva fought in one other match in BVF; at BVF 10 on July 1, 1997. There his opponent was Marcelao Marcelao, who submitted defeat after a shoulder injury.

Silva fought 6 matches in 4 different International Vale Tudo Championship (IVC) events from 1997 to 1999. He won 5 of those matches, losing only to Artur Mariano by TKO due to a cut in IVC 2: A Question of Pride on September 15, 1997.

Silva has been equally strong in Japan's PRIDE. Wanderlei first fought at the PRIDE 7 event on September 12, 1999, where he defeated Carl Malenko by decision. In fact Silva's shown himself to be most dominant here: from 1999 to 2004, Silva won 20 straight fights in PRIDE, with the exceptions of a draw against Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic (under slightly modified rules), and a 'no contest' against Gilbert Yvel, who was accidentally kicked in the groin.

Silva fought Kazushi Sakuraba for the first time at PRIDE 13: Collision Course on March 25, 2001. Silva won that one decisively, with a TKO via strikes at 1:38 of the first round. But the two became an audience favorite, and PRIDE would make sure Silva and Sakuraba would meet again.

At PRIDE 17: Championship Chaos on November 3, 2001, Silva won the title of PRIDE Middleweight Champion by defeating then-champ Sakuraba for the second time. It must have been a real battle; Sakuraba suffered a broken clavicle, forcing him to withdraw after the first round. This of course ensured for Silva a TKO via doctor's stoppage.

The two fought for the third time on August 10, 2003 at PRIDE Total Elimination 2003. By now it appeared that Silva had figured out the tough Sakuraba; Wanderlei dispatched him with two punches at 5:01 of round one.

Silva's other notable PRIDE wins include Guy Mezger (2001, KO), Dan Henderson (2001, decision), and Yuki Kondo (2004, KO) among others. In fact, Silva has never been defeated by any Japanese opponent-- a fact you can be sure rattles the patriotic Japanese. PRIDE has arranged for a host of Japanese fighters to face him.

But Silva does seem to have weaknesses--and interestingly, they show themselves when he fights by UFC rules. Wanderlei did a stint in UFC between his early Vale Tudo days and his glories at PRIDE. He wasn't as successful here.

Silva's first UFC bout was an October 16, 1998 match against Vitor Belfort at UFC Brazil: Ultimate Brazil. The match was surely Silva's worst career defeat. Silva lasted only 44 seconds before being knocked out by Belfort's punches.

Silva rebounded though, and won his next UFC match against Tony Petarra at UFC 20 on May 7, 1999, via knee strikes. But at UFC 25: Ultimate Japan 3 on April 14, 2000, Silva lost again, this time via decision to Tito Ortiz .

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