He had done well for himself in his native country of Brazil but two submission losses in Japan's PRIDE Fighting Championships took some luster off Anderson Silva's shine.
The first was an embarrassing triangle choke loss to middling Japanese mixed martial arts (MMA) veteran Daiju Takase. The second was a once-in-a-lifetime flying heel hook at the hands of Ryo Chonan. "Piranha," himself, doesn't possess all too strong a win/loss record either.
But an absolutely vicious elbow knockout over Tony Fryklund -- inspired by Ong-Bak star Tony Jaa, believe it or not -- caught the attention of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the fight promotion soon became very interested in "The Spider's" services.
On Saturday (July 7), Silva puts not only his title but his legacy on the line when he faces off against archrival Chael Sonnen. Ever since their showdown at UFC 117 which saw the American come less than three minutes away from taking the middleweight strap back home to West Linn, Oregon, fans have clamored for a second bout. That rematch, the main event of UFC 148, will close the show on what is expected to be the biggest event since UFC 100.
The UFC Middleweight Championship Silva has owned since the second time he fought for the promotion. His participation in that fight was based largely on his performance the first time he stepped inside the Octagon. It was against Chris Leben, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) fan favorite who promised to send Silva "back to Japan."
"The Spider" made his opponent eat those words along with a couple dozen punches.
Find out exactly how after the jump.
One of the most popular fighters on the first season of TUF, Leben was a mainstay on the Ultimate Fight Night (UFN) events also held on Spike TV. Their viewers would recognize him from the reality show and tune into their station to watch him fight, the executives no doubt thought.
After winning on each of the first four UFN cards, it was time for "The Crippler" to graduate to the main event.
Greeting him there was Silva, making his Octagon debut.
The Brazilian seemed unnaturally calm as he stood some 30 feet away from his opponent. As Leben pressed forward, Silva was content to work the outside and two quick jabs helped prove why. Each snapping his head back, Leben rushed Silva but the Brazilian used his opponent's own momentum against him, easily sidestepping the charging TUF veteran and tossing him to the canvas.
Back to his feet, Leben got cracked with a right hand and then a left. Moments later, he charged in again only to eat the same combination for a second time. A headkick from the Brazilian was followed up by another two punch combination which dumped Leben onto the mat for the second time in less than a minute.
"The Crippler" managed to get back to his feet after taking a bludgeoning on the floor only to eat a straight right, an uppercut and a knee to the skull. The final blow finally brought an end to the bout only 49 seconds after it began.
Rewatching the fight nearly half a dozen times, I could only find one instance of Leben landing a punch. On the other hand, it was a chore keeping tracking of every strike Silva landed. It was an absolutely amazing debut from the Brazilian and a taste of what was to come.
The victory propelled "The Spider" to title contention and less than four months later, he found himself opposite Rich Franklin with the former math teacher's 185-pound championship in his sights.
The Brazilian handed out a beating no one would ever forget.
Tomorrow: Now champion with one successful defense to his name, Silva looks to fend off the challenge of the man he beat for the belt.