STOCKHOLM -- From somewhere behind his dark sunglasses on Thursday afternoon, Thiago Silva allowed himself just enough vulnerability to own up to what he’d done and seek forgiveness. It has, after all, been a year and change since he was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for submitting a drug test sample that was "not consistent with human urine." That’s a long time to think about his mistakes, and to come to terms with the fact that he made a few along the way to the one big one.
"What I learned from that is really hard to explain," Silva told MMA Fighting following Thursday’s pre-fight press conference to promote his main event bout with Alexander Gustafsson at the UFC on FUEL TV 2 event this Saturday night. "Everybody makes mistakes. I made my mistake, and I just tried to put everything away and move forward and train right. I just learned again how [to] train right...how to put my body to work."
The question is, has the Brazilian light heavyweight learned this lesson too late?
The struggle with the back problems is at least something most people can sympathize with. The injury kept him out almost exactly a year after his decision loss to Rashad Evans, and he said he couldn’t bear to think that it might also knock him out of the UFC 125 tilt with Brandon Vera.
So Silva took a shortcut. He admitted to taking "injections in my back and spine" that would allow him to stay in the fight, and then attempting to hide that substances in his NSAC-mandated drug test. He paid the price with a year-long suspension. Now, a little over 16 months since his last time in the Octagon, he gets the unenviable task of taking on a hot young prospect in front of what is likely to be an unfriendly crowd at Sweden’s first UFC event.
Whether it’s a welcome back part or a set-up all depends on who you ask, but Silva remains unsurprisingly adamant that neither the layoff nor the location of the fight will play any role in its outcome.
"Everything is about your mentality," he said. "I think like, he can have the whole country behind him, screaming his name, but inside the cage it’s just me and you."
And his back problems? Those are all gone now, he insisted. Even in a 12-week camp, he claimed it never became an issue.
"Right now, I’m 100 percent healthy," Silva said.
Then again, what else is he supposed to say? Before the fight, everyone is healthy. No one thinks ring rust or a hometown crowd will be a factor. It’s only afterward that the tunes seem to change.
For Silva, however, there’s more at stake here than just a win or a loss. There’s the issue of image rehabilitation, of getting back to where he was before this rough stretch that started with a loss to future champ Lyoto Machida and eventually led to a victory overturned thanks to a faulty drug test. Whether fans are quite as eager as Silva is to put it behind him remains to be seen., but he knows it probably won’t happen overnight.
"It’s really hard, because it’s not my decision," he said. "It’s up to them. I’m here to do my job. I’m sure the fans, they’re going to understand."
And sure, sometimes that’s how it works. Just don’t count on it being these fans, in this city.