Two of the most fearsome heavy hitters on the UFC roster will collide this Saturday night (March 2, 2013) as former Pride champion Wanderlei Silva returns to "The Land of the Rising Sun" to battle Brian Stann in the main event of UFC on FUEL TV 8 in Saitama, Japan.
Silva is nearing the end of his 17 year professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, but has proven in recent performance that he's still got some spark left after finishing Cung Le and going to war with Rich Franklin. He's hoping to be inspired by his return to Japan, the first time he's fought there since his Pride prime in 2006.
Stann is moving up to light heavyweight in a "one-and-done" appearance at 205 pounds and is hoping to bounce back from a disheartening loss to Michael Bisping last October which knocked him out of the middleweight title picture. If he can score an emphatic win over a legend, he'll be right back in the mix.
Will "The Axe Murderer" return to form in the country he built his legend? Can Stann potentially put an end to Silva's incredible career? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 34-12-1 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-7 in the UFC
Key Wins: Michael Bisping (UFC 110), Quinton Jackson 2x (Pride 28, Pride Final Conflict 2003), Cung Le (UFC 137)
Key Losses: Rich Franklin 2x (UFC 147, UFC 99), Quinton Jackson (UFC 92), Chris Leben (UFC 132)
How he got here: We don't have room for a novel so we'll have the condensed version. Wanderlei Silva got his big break in Pride Fighting Championships. He'd gone 1-2 in the UFC including losing a title shot to Tito Ortiz at UFC 25 but he flourished in Japan.
Once in Japan, Silva went on a legendary four year unbeaten streak which included 12 knockouts and being crowned the promotion's defending 205 pound champion. Silva was considered the best fighter on the planet and his victory in the Pride 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix only cemented that fact.
Silva's fall from glory began with a vicious head kick from Mirko Filipovic and a knockout from the hands of Dan Henderson at Pride 33 where he would lose his precious title. He finally signed with the UFC again when Pride was purchased in 2007.
At UFC 79, Silva would finally fight Chuck Liddell in a match that was over five years in the making. No one cared that both men were coming off of two losses, it was still a big deal. The Brazilian would lose a unanimous decision but the fight was the stuff of legends with both men throwing bombs from start to finish.
Silva got back on track with a first round knockout of Keith Jardine but a devastating counter punch from Quinton Jackson in a trilogy fight would send him down to middleweight. "The Axe Murderer" defeated current contender Michael Bisping in his middleweight debut but was then sidelined for over a year with injuries.
Since healing up, Silva lost in brutal fashion to Chris Leben, knocked out former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le and recently lost a catchweight battle against Rich Franklin last summer. Now, he's hoping a return to light heavyweight will take less of a toll on his body in a fight against Stann this weekend.
How he gets it done: It's tough to teach an old dog new tricks, but Wanderlei doesn't have the chin he once had and he can't keep wading through punches just to get off strikes of his own. It seems like no matter what he works on in training, when the cage doors close, he just starts pushing forward and winging hooks. It's what he was built to do.
He'll need to be a little more patient against Stann and he should look for opportunities to close the distance and really try to hammer "The All-American" in the clinch with his patented Muay Thai knees and elbows when the fight is up close and personal.
Silva may not have the same durability, but he still hits hard as hell. As we saw with his knockout of Le and when he dropped Franklin last summer, he can still put a hurting on his opponents and if catches Stann with anything solid, he could be on his way to a potential storybook ending to a legendary career.
Record: 12-5 overall, 6-4 in the UFC
Key Wins: Chris Leben (UFC 125), Jorge Santiago (UFC 132), Alessio Sakara (UFC on Fuel TV 2)
Key Losses: Chael Sonnen (UFC 136), Phil Davis (UFC 109), Krzysztof Soszynski (UFC 97)
How he got here: If you really want the long (and highly entertaining version) check out Stann's book, Heart for the Fight, but for the condensed version, "The All-American" was a linebacker for the Navy, got interested in fighting while in the marines and would fight whenever he'd come home from Iraq, where he was a highly decorated officer.
Stann fought admirably in the WEC light heavyweight division, winning the title in just his sixth professional fight before Zuffa consolidated the division but he had trouble with the bigger, stronger light heavyweights in the UFC. After a 2-2 stint in the division, Stann made the decision to drop to the middleweight division.
As a 185-pounder, he now had a size and strength advantage over his opponents that he didn't have at 205. The ex-marine was able to showcase his new well-rounded skills with a triangle victory over Mike Massenzio and then followed it up by cracking Chris Leben's granite chin at UFC 125 with a first round technical knockout victory. Stann continued his run against Jorge Santiago, finishing "The Sandman" via second round TKO.
The victory over Santiago put him in title contention and he was been matched up against Chael Sonnen at UFC 136 but was completely overwhelmed by the mouthy realter, eventually succumbing to an arm triangle choke in the second round. He got back on track against Alessio Sakara, but couldn't keep his momentum rolling in a decision loss to Michael Bisping where he was outworked both standing and in the wrestling department.
With his fight against Silva tomorrow night, Stann is hoping to build some heat for his eventual return to 185 pounds.
How he gets it done: Stann has some of the most powerful strikes pound-for-pound on the UFC roster. There are only a select few that have put Chris Leben's lights out with their fists and he's on that list.
"The All-American" has some improving technique, but he's going to have to be careful against Silva, a warrior who's not only fired up but also possesses some serious punching combinations and severely outclasses him in overall fight experience. If Stann is robotic out there, Silva could connect with something absolutely vicious.
The goal for Stann is to connect with those powerful fists on Silva's jaw so look for him to try to keep the fight in the pocket where he'll look to either counter effectively or potentially take charge if he realizes he has a speed advantage.
Another scenario to look out for is Stann taking the fight to the ground and trying to finish it there. He possesses some very heavy ground and pound as evidenced by his clean knockout of Sakara from within his guard. If Stann finds himself in a similar situation, he'll be trying to repeat history.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is Wanderle Silva's return to Japan and how that could affect him inside the cage. We've seen fighters like Big Nog put on an inspired performance in his return to his home city, but we've also seen fighters like Rampage Jackson try to do too much with an injury just because they wanted to badly to fight in Japan and then proceed to put on a listless performance.
If Silva comes into the cage with a smart gameplan based on his current skillset and capabilities, he's got a good chance of winning. If he gets way too fired up, tries to fight like the old Wanderlei and proceeds to recklessly charge forward hands and knees flailing, there's a good chance he winds up in the hospital. As long as he can get fueled up by being in Japan without changing his strategy, he'll be in a position to perform well.
Bottom Line: This is a fight between two aggressive powerhouses. Both Stann and Silva will likely be trying to knock each other's heads off from the second the referee allows them to all the way until one of them is in a state of unconsciousness. Both men hit hard, aren't afraid to get hit and are willing to throw down. I would say that this fight has potential to be "Fight of the Night" but I fear it could be over so fast that the only award either man could take home is the best knockout. You will not want to blink for this one as someone is almost certainly going to get put to sleep.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fuel TV 8? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!