Any man who is willing to get a giant tattoo on the back of his skull has got to be absurdly tough or legitimately insane.
Wanderlei Silva just might very well be both.
His toughness can't be questioned. Stepping into a ring or cage against the likes of Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, and Mirko Filipovic is more than enough proof needed to determine that "The Axe Murderer" has intestinal fortitude, with some to spare.
On the flip side, he stepped into a ring or cage against the likes of Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, and Mirko Filipovic.
But Silva is the madman we all love. Endearing and deadly, he won our hearts through savagery and brutality, a Picasso of pain. His willingness to stand and exchange with any number of fighters that could detach him from his consciousness in order to hear the sweet sound of our cheering is second to none.
So, a little over a week removed (July 2, 2011) from his bout against Chris Leben at UFC 132: "Cruz vs. Faber," I'll highlight some of the Brazilian's finest moments in all their primal, violent glory.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Yuki Kondo (Pride FC: Final Conflict 2004, 8/15/04)
Non-title matches were the norm in the dearly missed Japanese promotion, so booking Silva against the Pancrase and UFC veteran didn't seem out of place. "The Axe Murderer" had kept busy since winning the 2003 grand prix by disposing of Ikuhisa Minowa at the company's second Bushido show. A rematch with fellow finalist Quinton Jackson was in the works but first, Silva had to take care of Kondo. A right hook sent the Japanese fighter reeling while a left dropped him on the mat. From there, the Brazilian did his best "I Love Lucy" impersonation as he stomped down on Kondo's head repeatedly. The image of his head bouncing off the mat is enough to make you cringe with sociopathic glee.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazuyuki Fujita (Pride FC: Critical Countdown Absolute, 7/1/06)
When an injury kept Fedor Emelianenko from competing in Pride's open weight tournament, Silva was more than happy to step in for the heavyweight champ. He faced off against Fujita who is nicknamed "Ironhead" for his ability to take a punch and not go down. "The Axe Murderer" decided to put that theory to the test. Silva came out guns blazing, nearly getting a knockout and a submission early in the round but Fujita persevered. The Japanese fighter wasn't so lucky in the closing moments of the round, however. A combination from Silva dropped him to the mat causing the Brazilian to swarm. Hammerfists and soccer kicks were dealt out but none delivered the killing blow. Fujita got back to his feet and was promptly sent back down. More punishing strikes from "The Axe Murderer" culminated in a devastating soccer kick that wrapped its way around "Ironhead's" jaw, forcing his corner to throw in the towel.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Kazushi Sakuraba (Pride FC: Collision Course, 3/25/01; Pride FC: Championship Chaos, 11/3/01; Pride FC: Total Elimination 2003, 8/10/03)
Sakuraba was riding high off the reputation of being "The Gracie Hunter" when he faced off against Silva for the first time. He was Pride's favorite son, a combination of showmanship and ability. But in a little over 90 seconds after a combination of punches and soccer kicks, he lay on the mat in a bloody heap. Eight months later, each fighter had a win under their belt since their first match-up -- Silva, a TKO over Shungo Oyama and Saku, a submission against "Rampage." The rematch was for the first Pride 205-pound title and while the Japanese legend lasted longer the second time around, the end result was no less brutal. After the 10-minute first round expired, a very noticeable protrusion was sticking out from beneath Sakuraba's neck. It was his collar bone, broken during the melee that had just ensued. And just like that, Silva began a legendary five-year run as champion. The two rivals met for the third and final time two years later in the opening round of the 2003 grand prix. Hardly any blood and no broken bones were the silver lining for "The Gracie Hunter," who for the only time in his career was knocked out cold. A haymaker from Silva barreled its way towards Saku's jaw, forcing his body stiff and sending him crashing to the mat.
(gif via mmagifs.wordpress.com)
Wanderlei Silva vs. Keith Jardine (UFC 84: Ill Will, 5/24/08)
"The Axe Murderer" had made his return to the Octagon after a nearly eight-year absence in a thrilling bout against Chuck Liddell that saw that Brazilian come up short against "The Iceman." It also capped off a three-fight losing streak for Silva. Stepping into the cage against former Liddell foil, Keith Jardine, he surely must have known that losing simply wasn't an option. One of Silva's trademarked looping hooks dropped "The Dean of Mean" to his knees while an uppercut flattened him on his back as he attempted to stand back up. The Brazilian pounced, jumping on top of his fallen foe and refusing to allow him to recuperate. Grabbing hold of Jardine's neck with what Joe Rogan affectionately referred to as a "rape choke," "The Axe Murderer" kept his opponent's skull in place to deliver bomb after bomb.
(gif via mmagif.blogspot.com)
Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton Jackson (Pride FC: Final Conflict 2003, 11/9/03; Pride FC: High Octane, 10/31/04)
When "Rampage" and "The Axe Murderer" met in the finals of the 2003 grand prix, the rivalry was already in full swing. After Jackson defeated Kevin Randleman earlier in the year, he told Silva -- who was sitting ringside -- that the title would soon be around the Memphis-born wrestler's waist. Silva took offense, entered the ring, and gave his rival a shove. Immediately, cornermen and officials separated the two before the fracas escalated further. It was obvious there was no love loss between them. Both bouts ended up being eerily similar for the American. He would start off strong but eventually found himself on the business end of "The Axe Murderer's" Thai clinch. In their tournament match-up, Silva pressed Jackson up against the ropes, landing knees to the head and body while peppering him with short hooks ... smiling the entire time. When they faced off a year later -- this time with the title on the line -- it was a hook that felled Jackson. Staggered from the punch, "Rampage" was easy pickings for the Muay Thai expert. "The Axe Murderer" locked Jackson's head in between his arms and rifled knee after knee into his cranium until letting go, allowing the American to freefall in between the bottom and middle ropes.
(gif via MMACore.com)
The Misfits have a compilation album named "Legacy of Brutality" and the title could very well be co-opted by the UFC when they release the inevitable Wanderlei Silva career retrospective.
But at 34-years old, it's no stretch to say that "The Axe Murderer" is in the twilight of his career. It used to be no surprise to see Silva in the Pride ring three or four times a year but lately, he's been competing only twice, sometimes as little as once a year.
By the time he steps into the Octagon on July 2, he will have only won twice in the past five years.
Has the time of "The Axe Murderer" come and gone?
Or does Silva have one last run in him at a more appropriate weight of 185-pounds?
We shall see.