by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Wanderlei Silva recently traveled to Australia for some public relations footwork on the UFC’s behalf and found that much of the work was already done.
UFC president Dana White cancelled a trip down under in December because the event had virtually sold out before tickets became available to the general public. 10,000 fans devoured pre-sale tickets to the event at Acer Arena. The rest were snatched up within minutes of going public.
Silva, who faces Michael Bisping in the main event of UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia, on Feb. 21, is spearheading a trip into new territory for the promotion a second time after headlining UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany, with Rich Franklin.
“It’s a great honor for me because it’s the first UFC in Australia, and the guys they are putting on the card,” Silva told MMAWeekly.com. “This is great for me because I have a lotta friends around the world. I had the same in Germany, and for me, it’s great to open the doors for the biggest event in the world.”
Silva said the 16-hour flight from Las Vegas to Sydney was no big thing. In his Pride days, he regularly flew from Curitiba, Brazil, to Saitama, Japan – an 11-hour time difference – and got used to re-setting his internal clock.
Plus, the UFC was taking good care of him.
“The guys give me the nice hotel with good food,” he said. “For me, this is paradise.”
On the home front, Silva is continuing a return to his roots, in a sense, to prepare for Bisping. After splitting with strength and conditioning coach Rafael Alejarra, he enlisted Rafael Cordero, his old coach at Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, to lead a camp for the upcoming fight. Cordero moved to the U.S. last year to start a Chute Boxe in Los Angeles and re-established contact with his pupil to prepare for Rich Franklin at UFC 99.
“He’s my idol before, because he is older than me in the gym,” Silva said of his former coach. “I go to his city in Brazil to watch his fights. For a long time, he was the best in the gym. He fought at 70 kilos. He has incredible Muay Thai, good jiu-jitsu, good takedowns.
“Sometimes, the guys have good technique but not a good coach, but him, he’s a good fighter and a good coach. He understands my style, and he puts me in good shape for all fights.”
The former Pride champion has had a rough go of it since returning to the UFC two years ago, going 1-3 inside the Octagon with a close decision loss to Franklin at UFC 99, a fight Silva felt he won.
In the mid-2000′s, he was one of the most feared fighters on the planet, with heavy hands and a Blitzkrieg style that defeated many opponents before they fought.
The wars he’s waged over the years have taken their toll. In August, he underwent surgery to repair damage built from a 14-year career in mixed martial arts, removing scar tissue under his eyes and opening nasal passages that had been deformed by several broken noses.
At this point in his career, he wants to enjoy his work and please his fans.
“All fights for me, I see the rope on the neck,” said Silva. “But no matter, I love the pressure. For me, I fight a long time in life. I fight because I like it. I fight because I have a lot of friends around the world that enjoy my fights.”
Initially, Silva’s opponent for Australia was Japanese superstar Yoshihiro Akiyama, but in November, the UFC put Bisping into the spot, sensing a bigger draw. Heavyweights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain Velasquez headline the event.
“(Bisping) is a good opponent,” said Silva. “He’s not afraid to fight with the stand-up. This is great because I’m not going to have a performance with him like just hold. I think him and I are going to have a good match.”
Silva feels if the title shot comes, so be it. A title is not going to define his path anymore.
“I love to make emotion for my fans around the world, and this is the reason I fight,” he said. “I don’t know if one day I’m going to fight for the title, but for this moment, I just enjoy my job. This is my business and my hobby.”