"Japan has some magic to it…. It's something mysterious."
Wanderlei Silva returning to Japan this weekend (Sat., March 2, 2013) to headline UFC on FUEL TV 8 opposite Brian Stann inside the hallowed Saitama Super Arena in Saitama is a big mixed martial arts (MMA) deal.
It might not seem that way, considering that "The Axe Murderer" has not been the same since he lost his Middleweight title (205 pounds) to Dan Henderson via insane knockout at Pride 33 in Feb. 2007 and then Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) swallowed the iconic Asian MMA promotion whole shortly thereafter.
I'll never forget that night alone on my green couch, which also featured Nick Diaz and his ridiculous come-from-behind submission (gogoplata) of Takanori Gomi, broken eye orbital and all (re-live the drama here), as well as Mauricio Rua finishing Alistair Overeem earlier on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card.
Before Pride 33, however, Silva was the man to beat in MMA, its biggest star by far. UFC President Dana White did everything in his power to steal his thunder, even making high-roller, quarter-million dollar bets with Pride FC CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara that his champion, Chuck Liddell, could defeat Silva at Pride: "Final Conflict," a grand prix tournament event that required the pair of finalists to compete twice on the same night, in 2003.
Quinton Jackson killed that bet and spoiled that date with destiny, though, finishing "Iceman" via technical knockout in round two of the semifinals. "Rampage" would then go on to lose to Silva in the finals, delaying the biggest MMA fight at the time between Silva and Liddell for four years until UFC 79 in 2007.
When it did finally happen, the showdown still turned out to be an exciting "Fight of the Night," with Liddell winning a unanimous decision in Silva's Octagon debut, but it was just a bit too late.
Anyway, Silva is back in Japan this weekend for the first time in nearly seven years. It's significant, if for nothing else than because he -- along with Fedor Emelianenko -- were the greatest fighters of an MMA generation that is now, for all intents and purposes, all but lost.
That's what makes the video up above so special, with Silva providing a first-hand account of the great fights that helped shape his Hall of Fame legacy. Unsurprisingly, that includes his first stoppage of Jackson to win the grand prix (re-live that moment here) after a "very tough fight" against Hidehiko Yoshida just a few hours earlier.
Silva also recounted his "Rampage" rematch almost exactly one year later in vivid detail, explaining how it felt when -- after landing a knee to the chin -- his body became soft and he just "disappeared." Of course, Silva is describing the image of Jackson planking between the white ropes as he attacks the corner camera with perhaps the most memorable MMA celebration ever.
As Silva describes it, the finish was "one of the most beautiful knockouts in MMA history." It's hard to disagree.
Please enjoy the video above as much as I clearly did, especially if Pride FC pre-dates your MMA fandom (that's okay, no matter what Maniacs around these parts tell you). In addition to the Pride FC vs. UFC talent tug-of-war, which would be unheard of in this day and age of UFC supremacy, Silva also reveals his "beginning," which came at the expense of Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba ... four times.
A "beginning" 16 years in the making that can come full circle this weekend with a classic "All American" finish under the same legendary lights.
God willing (and I'm not even remotely spiritual ... just hopeful).