UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has traveled a long road since his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) debut in 1997.
He started in Brazil, struggled in Japan, shined in England and conquered in the United States. He has made a few other quick pit stops along the way, but on Aug. 27, 2011, "The Spider" finally returns home to where he originally weaved his wicked web, headlining UFC 134 in front of a hometown crowd at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Silva has come full circle. And he's a completely different fighter than the one who defeated Waldir dos Anjos via technical knockout at Conquista Fight (CF) 1 back in Dec. 2003, which marked the last MMA appearance for the Sao Paulo product in his native land.
In fact, Silva -- frequently referred to as the "greatest mixed martial artist ever" by company president Dana White -- holds the record for most title defenses ever inside the Octagon (eight), the most consecutive UFC wins (13) and has not lost a fight since a controversial disqualification against Yushin Okami in 2006, the man who Silva will meet once again in the center of the cage in less than a fortnight.
Silva described his journey and what it means to him to return home at this point in his career during the recent UFC 134 media conference call.
"It's very emotional to think about fighting in my home, Brazil," he said. "I've fought all over the world, not just in the UFC, but in other events. i feel that all this hard work and everything that I've done has all led up to this moment. It's very nice to be fighting in your home country and get recognized by all the people around me. I'm very excited and very motivated to fight here in Brazil."
This "moment" has been more than five years in the making. Silva and Okami first met at Rumble on the Rock (ROTR) 8, which was an eight-man welterweight tournament that also featured Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Frank Trigg, Renato Verissimo, Dave Menne and Ronald Juhn. It was held at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Silva was matched up against "Thunder" in the opening round … and he would not advance any further. He struck Okami with an illegal upkick in the first round, which stopped the fight in its tracks because the Japanese fighter was unable to continue.
It's a controversial outcome that has been debated ever since, but during the call both fighters, especially Okami, made it seem as though it never happened.
"I think it was just an accident," Okami said through an interpreter. "It's an old story and I don't want to talk about it that much. I'm just focusing on this next fight."
However, White would not let him off the hook that fast. With 10 wins inside the Octagon versus only two close defeats, which were to a former champion (Rich Franklin) and number one contender (Chael Sonnen), in five years of hard, gritty work for the promotion, White feels that Okami not only earned this rematch with Silva, but has the opportunity to achieve something special.
"In my opinion, Yushin Okami is the best fighter to ever come out of Japan," he said. "This guy didn't come up fighting cans -- he's been fighting the absolute best for years. I'm sure he feels, and a lot of other people feel, that he hasn't got the credit that he deserved. Now he's going in against the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world -- probably the best fighter ever in mixed martial arts. If he wins this fight not only will he get the credit that he deserves, but he'll have beaten the best in the world."
However, a "real" win for Okami over an esteemed and accomplished fighter such as Silva, and to do it in hostile territory, would no doubt vault him into that prestigious company. And that would put him right in stride with two other Japanese fighters, Daiju Takase and Ryo Chonan, who have contributed (along with Okami) to Silva's four career MMA losses (the other was Luiz Azeredo early in his career).
Does Japan hold an unfair advantage over Silva? We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, Silva chalks it up to experience, or lack there of.
"A fight is a fight," said Silva. "Okami, in the first fight, I didn't have big experience in the cage. But this time I have experience, I have technique and I have conditioning."
He'll also have Brazil.