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Last of the Champion Brawlers: Wanderlei Silva
The shaded contours of bruising were already forming around the right eye. The fight had gone to a decision and the obligatory rematch request was issued, but it would not be granted. He had come close enough, against an opponent good enough to delay enforced retirement for the moment.
The desire to fight maintained, but as Rich Franklin clinically exposed at UFC 99, past wars have irretrievably taken their toll on Wanderlei Silva.
Physically, Silva still looks impressive. The compact, muscular shoulders still hunch in the manner of years gone by. There remains the menacing trudge toward opponents with abandon for his own wellbeing. He still swings with complete intent, but whilst a short right from the "Axe Murderer" would once have killed, it now only wounds.
Franklin employed perfect strategy against the ageing brawler. Acting as the matador to the bull, he utilized his superior reach and footwork to maintain a safe distance from Silva, drawing the Pride legend in, scoring points, and then escaping.
Where in years passed, Silva's ferocity, strength and chin could be relied upon to neutralise such tactics, the 2009 model was reduced to little more than a puncher's chance, wobbling Franklin on a couple of occasions without toppling him.
Silva suffers from a Chuck Liddell-like, stubbornness of strategy, continually neglecting any semblance of a ground game to compensate for his diminishing striking abilities.
The fighter himself attributes this attitude to an admirable desire to entertain, but if he is to ever again reach the levels of success to which he was accustomed, diversity and evolution are essential.
''The Axe Murderer'' established his formidable legacy during eight highly successful years in Japan. Silva monopolised the Pride Fighting Organisation's 205lb division, through a combination of intimidation, ruthless aggression and devastating power.
Present UFC luminaries Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Dan Henderson counted amongst the numerous opponents unable to withstand the uniquely aggressive onslaught of the Curitiba native.
The Japanese regulations favoured Silva's style of fighting.Following a loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 in 2000, Silva would go nearly five years before tasting defeat between the ropes of Pride. Slowly however, the strain of years of violent wars in both the ring and gym, began to wear on the champion.
His punch resistance began to fade and the shroud of mythical intimidation his opponents faced began to slip. Silva would be knocked out in his final two fights in Japan, becoming the latest addition in Mirko Cro Cop's head kick montage, before losing his long held middleweight title to Dan Henderson.
The problems Silva would face in the octagon were all evident in his next defeat to Chuck Liddell at UFC 79. The ''Iceman'' proved technically superior with his striking, delivering the straighter, crisper punches and hinting at a diversity with his takedown attempts lacking in the Brazilian, handing Liddell the unanimous decision.
A first round demolition of Keith Jardine then followed, before a third devastating knockout loss in five fights to Quinton Jackson.
Silva began the fight implementing an intelligent and tested game plan, focusing on the front leg of Jackson, but it would not be long before he reverted back to the wild, swinging punches of old, which left him open to a counter thudding left from Jackson, and he consequently found himself splayed as if across a crucifix: unconscious.
The fight with Franklin, at a catch weight of 195lbs, was made with the dual intentions of easing Silva into the middleweight division and establishing him as an immediate challenger for the title. It is questionable whether either was achieved.
Silva reportedly had trouble adjusting to the drop in weight, which was still a full 10lb off middleweight, whilst the loss places him firmly behind a throng of contenders, such as Damian Maia, Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping, eager for a title shot.
Despite all of this Silva, remains as popular as he ever has been. In the four fights since his return to the UFC, he has lost to a Knockout of the Night, won by a Knockout of the night and won two fight of the night honours.
He is a unique fighter, who appears more concerned with entertainment than result, which may make a refreshing change given the recent title fights at the weight he seeks to enter. The danger however, is that the entertainment may soon be provided at the expense of his health.
Wanderlei Silva’s legacy is secure; an unsuccessful foray at 185lb will do nothing to diminish that, his health however, may not endure quite so well.
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