Could mixed martial arts legend Wanderlei Silva have possibly been serious when he said it occurred to him to take the fight to the ground against Brian Stann at the Super Arena, in Saitama, on Saturday night?
The very same PRIDE legend and UFC star who earned his fighting sobriquet ‘the Axe Murderer’ for those devastating hands, knees and feet that have accounted for so many victims in combat.
As the Brazilian – beast on the outside, beautiful person on the inside, ‘Thanks God’ tattooed onto his forearm – prepared for his 29th fight in Japan (22-4-1, 1 No Contest) – he just hinted it had crossed his mind to use his skillset advantages against his opponent in the main event. Just for a moment.
In this, his first fight in Japan since September 2006, he faces the most decorated soldier ever to grace the UFC Octagon. An officer, and so patently a gentleman, Brian Stann has been through the mill in the last year, losing his brother-in-law unexpectedly, which had a impact on his family, and consequently on his fighting career.
Watch UFC on Sportsnet: Silva vs. Stann on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific. Also catch five preliminary bouts starting at 7:40 p.m. ET on Sportsnet.ca.
This fight being set at light-heavyweight, 205lbs, has been a bonus for both men. Both men know how to stand and trade, and we can expect fireworks from them, with both having openly said they plan to put on a show to delight the fans.
When Silva admitted to me on Friday that although the fight against Stann is expected to play out as a stand-up battle, it had crossed his mind that he may take the fight to the floor, it came as a shock. But he does, after all, have a black belt in jiu-jitsu.
But then the real Wanderlei crept out. The one who fights for the fans. His raison d’etre. “I think about it, because I have the black belt in jiu-jitsu and he does not have the ground game, but once I get into the fight, I like to prove things with these,” said the Brazilian, his hands rising towards his face.
Silva also told me that while his body feels good, retirement is not on his mind. He has been much more comfortable in this camp, not having to cut to middleweight, where he has fought his last four contests.
Silva has seen it all in his 48 career fights. He once took a fight on two days’ notice, but he says that was a different era, and that the sport has moved on enormously, and although there is always pressure on him to show his best fighting skills, he simply loves his job.
It has been a tough tenure result-wise in the UFC for the aggressive sportsman who holds the record for the most wins, knockouts, title defenses, and longest winning streak in the history of the PRIDE fighting championship organisation.
Since joining the UFC in five years ago, he has a 3-5 win/loss record, though the 36-year-old always faces elite opposition. There are no gimmes for Wanderlei.
Stann, meanwhile, says he lacked strength and conditioning last year due to a shoulder injury, and had a poor time losing to Michael Bisping, though he defeated Alessio Sakara in Sweden last April.
But it was the loss of his brother-in-law 14 months ago, which had a huge impact on the family. “In 2012, I had competing priorities and I had something in my life more important than fighting.” He is talking of the loss of his brother-in-law.
“I lied last year when I said it was the best camp of my life, I was trying to convince myself and it wasn’t the case. I don’t there is another fighter that was happy as me to see 2012 go away. It was difficult to deal with fighting while dealing with my family. I didn’t have the attitude I needed to compete at an elite level.”
When the UFC’s middleweight rankings came out, Stann was not in the top 10. “It was a surprise to me and it did it upset me. It is what it is, there are a lot of people in the media. Those rankings in some areas were absolutely horrendous. When you bring that many media members then you can expect a little bit of chaos. Maybe I needed something like that to have a chip on my shoulder. I’ve only lost to elite level competition, the two guys that beat me [Bisping and Chael Sonnen] are pretty good and the last guy, Bisping, didn’t beat me by much. I’m continuing to get better, and I don’t think other guys are.”
Stann feels his style meshes well with Silva. “When I’m inside the cage, I’m good being in the pocket. When you punch me in the face I get mad and I want to trade. With Silva that isn’t a smart approach, it’s the only way he can win the fight. I think I can take his best shot and not get knocked out. But that would be be arrogant of me. I need to have better footwork, I’m a better wrestler and on the ground, now. I need to mix it up and set up the big shot and knock him out.”
Stann is stoked to be facing a legend. “You look at your career on your timeline and a couple stand out. After this fight, I put my career on a timeline then this will stand out the most.”
“I was born in Japan, on a military base, it’s the first time I’ve headlined a card for the UFC, I’m proud of that. I’m fighting Silva in Tokyo in the Super Arena. It doesn’t get nay cooler than that. I want to enjoy this.”
Silva has fought in bursts in his recent fights. “I’ve worked on beating the surges. Even in the fights he loses, he very rarely gets dominated. He got caught against Chris Leben. He always hurts guys, he throws at awkward angles and has awkward timing. It’s hard to find guys to mimic him in sparring. I’ve prepared for that, drilled for that, timing, bull rushes, and counter punching.”
“This fight is all about attitude. I want three fights this year, three finishes to stay unbeaten. It was the toughest year of my career last year. I I’ve had two coaches move to the area [he lives in, having left the Greg Jackson camp in New Mexico) full-time which has helped, and my family is behind me fully and support. Now, it’s all about wanting to compete for the title at middleweight.”
All about mindset with Stann. And all he needs now is to get through the legend standing in front of him.
As a footnote, a minor tremor hit Tokyo in the early hours of the morning. At the hotel where the fighters and media are staying there was a big crack like door slamming outside and you could feel hotel wobbling.
It was 01.35am. I am on 25th floor and it was a weird sensation as you felt the hotel shaking a little. It was understood, first of all, that hotel staff thought it was the two men above involved in a late-night padwork session.