Just when you think Wanderlei Silva has arrived at the end of his career, the veteran turns back the clock with a vintage performance that makes you want to see him fight again as soon as possible.
Fighting in Japan for the first time in more than six years, the former Pride superstar delivered just over nine minutes of the violent mayhem that made him a star, finishing a game Brian Stann in the final minute of the second round in Saturday night’s main event.
The crowd was energized for the entire bout, revving into a fevered state when “Sandstorm” echoed through the arena when Silva entered. They remained there through the back-and-forth first round that saw copious amounts of leather traded between the two, and exploded when the charismatic Brazilian put the finishing touches on his latest knockout victory.
Now the question is what comes next for the MMA legend?
Wanderlei Silva vs. Forrest Griffin
Silva passed on what seemed like a perfect opportunity to ride off into the sunset to the cheers of his adoring fans, and appears keen on continuing.
If he is indeed going to continue competing, a return to light heavyweight seems to make the most sense. As for an opponent, a fight with Forrest Griffin could be an entertaining brawl between two veterans on the downside of their career.
Griffin hasn’t fought since earning a unanimous decision win over Tito Ortiz in their trilogy bout last summer, and he fits the bill of the kind of fighter Silva seems keen on facing at this stage of his career.
Now here’s a look at the match-ups I’d make for the rest of Saturday’s winners.
Mark Hunt vs. Roy Nelson
This one hinges on Nelson beating Cheick Kongo in a couple months, but it’s a fight both men have talked about in the past, and one that would certainly be entertaining.
As entertaining as Hunt’s four-fight winning streak has been, he’s just now butting up against the bottom of the top 10, and would need a couple more quality wins in order to be considered a true title contender. Nelson is in the same boat, even if he gets through Kongo.
With the upper echelon of the division tied up for the next few months, pairing these two heavy-handed, hard-headed sluggers together would be guaranteed fireworks.
Diego Sanchez vs. Nate Diaz
Obviously this is predicated on Diaz emerging from his UFC on FOX fight with Josh Thomson in April, but if he does, pairing him with Sanchez makes complete sense.
Sanchez holds a victory over Nick Diaz from back in the day, and declared his interest in taking on the younger half of the Stockton, Calif., fighting family after his controversial split decision win over Takanori Gomi on Saturday night. The Diaz Brothers don’t take getting called out lightly, and you can bet that Nate will be ready to step up and defend the family name if he’s able to topple Thomson next month.
Stylistically, this pairing would be tremendous, just like it was when the Ultimate Fighter winner and elder Diaz squared off on the second TUF finale seven years ago, and as established names, it would be an easy fit into the opening slot of a FOX or pay-per-view fight card.
Yushin Okami vs. Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza
Provided the former Strikeforce champion gets through Costa Philippou — which is far from a sure thing — a pairing with the perennial gatekeeper Okami would make sense to me.
As much as I usually hate having established veterans picking off potential fresh challengers on their way up, there seems to be a surplus of guys no one is quite sure about yet coming together in the middleweight ranks. Okami serves as the perfect measuring stick for those fighters — a former title challenger and tough stylistic match-up who is capable of beating just about anyone on any given night.
For Okami, this would work because beating “Jacare” would give him another quality win in his quest to earn another title shot, and keep him ahead of the oncoming pack of potential challengers.
Rani Yahya vs. Manny Gamburyan
For two rounds, Yahya looked like a featherweight version of Demian Maia, pressing the pace and showcasing his tremendous grappling skills against Mizuto Hirota on Saturday night. In the third, however, the Brazilian tired, and had to simply survive in order to take home a unanimous-decision win.
Yahya has now won consecutive contests in the UFC for the first time, and should get a step up in competition, but he’s not yet ready for the deep end of the featherweight talent pool. Gamburyan is coming off a decision win over Michihiro Omigawa last summer — and a late injury that forced him from a scheduled bout with Chad Mendes more recently — and feels like the right fit opposite the Constrictor Team standout.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Mike Pierce
Dong Hyun Kim has won consecutive bouts by using his superior grappling to control opponents on the ground. Rather than pair him with a striker, I think it’s time to see how the “Stun Gun” manages when he’s sharing the cage with a fellow grinder.
Like Kim, Pierce has put together a solid resume just outside of the top tier of the welterweight division. With room on the fringes of contention starting to be at a premium, putting these two in the cage together to see which one takes the next step forward seems like a logical call to me.
Quick Thoughts on Some of Saturday’s Losers
Brian Stann vs. Ed Herman
Stann is highly marketable, but destined to remain a middle of the pack middleweight. Herman is coming off an ugly loss to “Jacare” in Strikeforce, and is probably a loss away from being shown the door.
Stefan Struve vs. Ben Rothwell
“Big Ben” survived the axe when the UFC pared the roster last week, and is coming off an ugly loss to Gabriel Gonzaga in January. Struve will need to time to recover, but this could be an entertaining “Loser Leaves Town” match in the heavyweight ranks.
Takanori Gomi vs. Ross Pearson
Provided “The Real Deal” gets through Ryan Couture next month, a match-up with Gomi — who is likely to be booked as if he’s coming off a win — would be a solid test for both lightweight hopefuls.
Hector Lombard vs. Siyar Bahadurzada
Assuming the high-priced Lombard isn’t cut after his second loss in three UFC appearances, I’d love to see him shed some mass and move down in weight, and a match-up with Bahadurzada, who was also lost a decision Saturday night, would be beautifully violent. If Lombard stays at middleweight, he’s had a beef with Mark Munoz, so those two could throw down when Munoz is ready to return later this spring.