Former PRIDE middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1 MMA) recently retired from the sport of mixed martial arts, this due to apparent grievances he had with both his employer (The UFC) and the NSAC (Nevada State Athletic Commission).
Yesterday, the NSAC announced that “The Axe Murderer” had been indefinitely suspended, meaning he will never be able to fight in the state of Nevada again. Wand was also slapped with a $70,000 fine by the commission, which his lawyer said he would likely appeal.
It is a truly ugly end to what I feel was one of the most influential careers in mixed martial arts history.
I’m not going to sit here and defend Silva for his recent actions (running away from a NSAC issued random drug test), but I will defend his legacy and what he meant to the sport of mixed martial arts.
I started watching MMA in the late 90’s, well before the sport received social acceptance, let alone main stream popularity.
The first time I ever watched Wanderlei compete was at UFC 17.5 (also known as Ultimate Brazil) in 1998. Although he got steamrolled by a young “Phenom” (Vitor Belfort) that evening, I remember thinking to myself that ‘he (Silva) has to be one of the scariest looking guys I have ever seen.’ He had a tattoo across the back of his shaved skull and a look in his eyes like a man who was ready to perform pure evil.
The next time I saw Silva fight, he was doing so under the PRIDE banner, a Japanese organization that would ultimately make him one of MMA’s biggest stars. I remember him knocking out UFC veteran Guy Mezger in the first-round of their fight at PRIDE 10 and instantly becoming a fan. His fight style was something I had never seen before, he constantly moved forward and threw every punch with the intent of knocking his opponent’s head clean off.
If you were a fan of PRIDE, then you surely remember the song “Sandstorm.” When that beat hit the speakers of Japan’s Saitama Super Arena, everyone in attendance or watching world-wide got goosebumps. After all, it was the entrance music for “The Axe Murderer,” the most feared middleweight fighter on the planet.
As intense and fierce as Silva looked in his walkout to the ring and during fighter introductions, it still paled in comparison to how he actually fought. The man was just plain violent. He had total disregard for his own safety and well-being, all this in hopes of pleasing his fans with a crazy knockout-ending performance.
That’s what made Silva such a fan favorite. He was the most reckless and aggressive fighter in the sport (at the time) and yet when he got on the microphone all he could talk about was how happy he was to be able to fight for his fans and give a good show. It was actually quite comical.
“The Axe Murderer” had many formidable challenges during his days in PRIDE Fighting Championships. Wand fought and defeated Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba on three separate occasions, earning the coveted PRIDE middleweight championship in the process.
Silva’s biggest rivalry may have come against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, whom he defeated on 2 occasions under the Pride banner, but later lost to while fighting for the UFC. I remember how excited I was to watch the Silva vs. Jackson rematch on Halloween night in 2004. The pairs rivalry had been making headlines for weeks leading up to their main event contest and the fight delivered in full, earning “Fight of the year” honors once all was said in done.
Silva fought a variety of different opponents in multiple weight classes during his time with PRIDE, including heavyweights Mark Hunt and Mirko Filipovic.
In his 8 years with the promotion, the Brazilian bomber scored notable victories over Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba (3x), Quinton Jackson (2x), Yuki Kondo, Kazuyuki Fujita and Ricardo Arona.
Wanderlei Silva, along with many other former PRIDE standouts would join the UFC roster in 2007. Silva’s debut with the Zuffa-owned promotion would come against former champ Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell at UFC 79. The Wand vs. Chuck fight was one of, if not the most highly anticipated bouts I can remember in MMA history. The fight itself lived up to the hype, as both former champions went toe-to-toe for 3 rounds, with Liddell winning via judges decision.
Silva would score his first octagon win in 2008, when he brutally knocked out Keith Jardine in the co-main event of UFC 84. It was a great moment for both Wand and fans of “The Axe Murderer” who had been waiting years to finally see him win a fight state side.
Silva would go 4-5 in his second stint with the UFC, his last appearance being a knockout win over Brian Stann at 2013’s UFC on FUEL TV 8 event in Japan.
Wand’s other two UFC victories came against opponents Michael Bisping and Cung Le respectively.
Although Wanderlei may have made some poor decisions as of late, it is important to remember that this man helped build the sport of mixed martial arts and that he has supplied us fight fans with many terrific memories.
Hopefully Silva can right his wrongs and continue to help make a positive influence on MMA going forward.
By Chris Taylor