Alex Silva has beaten two previously undefeated Japanese fighters in quick succession to establish himself as the ONE Championship strawweight champion and the best fighter at his weight in the world.
It’s difficult to identify areas for improvement ahead of the Brazilian’s first title defense at ONE: Grit and Glory in Jakarta. But Silva sees one obvious way in which he could build on his decision win over Yoshitaka Naito, by becoming the first man to ever finish the Japanese fighter.
“I am training hard, I am pushing hard, and I will be prepared for everything. I will be ready to go all five rounds again if I need to, but I will be looking to finish him before the fifth round this time. I always try to finish the bout. I always try to submit you or knock you out.”
Going into the first fight with Naito, he had six submission victories on his record, but Silva had never won a decision. The fight was not close, with the Japanese fighter spending the majority of the five rounds in defensive mode, and the judges had an easy job.
But Silva can cement his status as the best strawweight in the world with an emphatic win in Jakarta this Saturday. He wants to show he has evolved as a fighter in the six months or so that have elapsed since their first match.
“I cannot say I am not happy about getting the world title, but I would have been happier if I could have finished the contest before the fifth round. I am just looking to improve upon my performance from the first bout. That is my goal now.”
Stylistically Silva presents a puzzle that Naito might struggle to solve. The Japanese fighter is primarily a grappler. But the Brazilian is a decorated third-degree BJJ black belt, who once won a gold medal at the Copa du Mundo, the world cup of Jiu Jitsu.
His level of experience in the submission game gives Silva enormous confidence. Naito had submitted both his previous ONE Championship opponents, but the Brazilian goes into this contest knowing he is the superior grappler.
“I think his biggest strength might be his grappling, but I am a grappler, too. I believe I am better than him in any art, especially on the ground,” Silva says.
Silva first moved to Singapore in 2011. At the time, he had never competed in MMA, but those outstanding grappling credentials, as well as a personal connection, helped propel him down a slightly different career path.
“I came to Singapore because of my friend, Leandro (Issa). He came here first, then he invited me to come and join him and join Evolve MMA.”
Issa fought for the inaugural ONE Championship bantamweight title, but was stopped by Soo Chul Kim. Both Brazilians have had their ups and downs as mixed martial artists, but Silva says they remain extremely close.
“This guy is my idol, my hero, my friend, my brother. He has always been a big part of my career. I started my training with him, so I have always tried to follow him in everything he does. He is a good example and I am so lucky to have a friend like him in my life.”
Evolve MMA has a superb track record when it comes to finding fighters with a background in just one discipline and converting them into successful mixed martial artists. Silva’s teammate, Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, became ONE Championship’s inaugural strawweight champion after a decorated career in Muay Thai.
Silva has faced the opposite challenge to Dejdamrong. He arrived in Singapore with outstanding grappling credentials, but has added other elements to his game due to an obsessive training ethic.
“Every day I am at the gym. Even on my days off, I end up coming to the gym anyway. That is my life, it is what I love to do. Some people like to go to the beach, some like to party, but I just love coming to the gym.”
Silva’s record currently stands at 7-1, but you can’t help thinking his career trajectory would have been steeper if strawweight fights had been easier to find when the Brazilian made his debut. His sole loss came in a flyweight fight, where he was beaten by current interim champion Geje Eustaquio.
The 35-year-old didn’t fight once in 2014, but now that he has the opportunity to compete at his natural weight, Silva is looking to make up for lost time. He already has the belt, now the challenge is to become a dominant champion and mount a series of successful defenses.
“I think I have everything I need. I am determined, I am focused, I have the skills, I always work hard, and I have the best team behind me at Evolve MMA. So I think I have everything to hold this belt for a long time.”