by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
On Saturday night in Sacramento, Calif., UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva will finally get the opportunity to make the first defense of his title. That distinction was supposed to have taken place months ago when the Brazilian faced The Ultimate Fighter Season 4 victor Travis Lutter. Unfortunately for both Lutter and Silva, Lutter was unable to make weight and the fight was downgraded to a three-round non-title bout.

That hasn’t taken away from the amiable fighter’s growing love affair with his newly found American fan base. Despite taking the title from one of the UFC’s most popular fighters, Rich Franklin, Silva has been well-received in the U.S.

“I love American fans,” said Silva. “They have treated me very well.”

So well, in fact, that Silva may soon adopt the country that has taken him in as the UFC Middleweight Champion. “I look forward to living here in the near future,” commented Silva. “I love America.”

At UFC 73 in Sacramento, Silva’s first defense of his belt will be against Nate Marquardt, a deserving and decorated fighter that presents a difficult challenge for Silva.

“I think he is an excellent fighter,” said the champion. “I believe it will be the best fight of the night.”

Not as highly recognized in the U.S. as Japan where he developed his early career, Marquardt enters the Octagon with the distinctions of being the first middleweight King of Pancrase and the only man ever to win the King of Pancrase distinction seven times.

Silva is a humble man that never looks past his opponent, but it seems that nearly everyone else does. Despite the dangers that Marquardt presents, many people, including some in the UFC, are looking towards a rematch between Silva and the man whose belt he took in Franklin. Such a rematch has been proposed as a probability for an event in Cincinnati, Ohio in the fall.

Although he dominated Franklin, dismantling him from inside Silva’s Muay Thai clinch, the champ doesn’t balk at a rematch. “I would give him the opportunity he gave me to fight for the belt,” commented Silva on the potential fight. “I think he is a true gentleman and a great fighter.”

But if you ask Silva, presuming he does get past Marquardt on Saturday, whom he would like to fight, he really has no preference other than to face the best that the UFC has to offer. “I want to fight the best, whoever that might be at the time.”

Even posed with the possibility of a UFC vs. Pride championship match-up doesn’t daunt Silva, “Like I said, I want to fight the best.”

Currently, such a UFC champion vs. Pride champion would plot Silva against Dan Henderson, the 185-pound titleholder from Pride. Henderson already finds himself in such a match with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton Jackson, as Henderson also holds the Pride belt in that weight class as well.

But putting his focus back on the present task at hand, Marquardt, Silva is prepared to once again step in the Octagon. He had a knee injury following the fight with Lutter, which caused a slight delay in this fight happening, but says that the knee has healed up fine and that he is ready to go.

Once a member of the famed Chute Boxe Academy, Silva has been successful in building a strong training team since leaving. Initially forming the Muay Thai Dream Team, Silva is now one of the founding members of Black House, a group of individuals in Brazil that are pooling their talents and garnering success.

Aside from Silva, Black House is also home to fighters such as Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, Nino Schembri, Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and others. Rodrigo Nogueira makes his UFC debut in Sacramento where he aims to cap a trilogy of fights with Heath Herring by notching another win.

“Training has been great there,” said Silva of Black House.

And if his results in the Octagon is the gauge by which that statement is measured, it can’t be denied. In his three fights since entering the UFC, Silva has never gone to a decision. In fact, he has dispatched of Chris Leben, Rich Franklin and Travis Lutter in a total combined ring time of 10 minutes and 59 seconds.

Many believe, however, that Marquardt brings a style that will mark Silva’s toughest test to date. He is strong, has excellent striking skills, is a formidable wrestler, and like Silva is a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt and trains with a strong team at Greg Jackson’s gym in New Mexico.

As he looks towards his future in America, one thing is for certain Silva is not looking past Marquardt.