BURBANK, Calif. -- For all these years, Anderson Silva has remained a mystery.
Sure, the UFC middleweight champion has provided ample hints at the personality which lurked just beneath the surface. You knew there was more to the man than just the magic in the Octagon which puts the artistry in mixed martial arts.
But multiple layers have stood between the public and the UFC's longest-reigning champion, from the Brazilian's language barrier, to the coterie of handlers who keep a close eye on him, to his propensity to vanish from the spotlight for months at a time.
Monday, Silva gave as close to a glimpse behind the curtain as he's ever given the U.S. media. Hosting select Los Angeles-area reporters for a luncheon to kick off UFC 162 fight week, Silva was relaxed and confident as he commanded the room and spoke for most of the engagement in direct English conversation.
The champ was in the mood to philosophize.
"I practice the martial arts," said Silva, who defends his title against Chris Weidman on Saturday in Las Vegas. "I don't practice MMA. MMA is my job."
"The UFC is my job," Silva continued. "It's different. The martial arts changed my life. And people change my life. You respect the people. You have a chance to help your team. You have to the chance to give your knowledge to all your students. To fight, is very important. But, the martial arts, you have the opportunity to give. MMA is a new sport. Martial arts is the knowledge from the ages."
Martial arts were still on Silva's mind when he was asked about his recent comments in which he declared B.J. Penn to be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all-time.
"Not for now, because he's tired, but for his whole career," Silva says. "You see the nature of his movement, his jiu-jitsu, his love of the fight. The question you need to ask is, why is he still fighting? Because he's a true martial artist."
At this point, you start to understand why UFC president Dana White has at times referred to Silva as more an artist than an athlete. The champ clearly relishes the opportunity to rhapsodize about the martial arts on an intellectual level.
Try to pin him down for specifics, though, and all of a sudden you feel like you've been hit with the rhetorical equivalent of Silva's fight with Forrest Griffin, as he effortlessly dodges and weaves around the question, then counterstrikes.
I ask Silva how much importance he places on his records, like his longest title reign in UFC history (six years, nine months and counting) and his UFC win streak (16 in a row). By the time he's done, I feel like my question was answered with a knockout jab.
"For me, for people to see my technique and appreciate it, that is what is rewarding," Silva said. "When people talk to me and tell me they enjoy my fight, I say thank you. Then I go home to my family and I forget about it. People say ‘When is your next fight?' and I say ‘I don't know.' It's about respect. Respect your school, respect your family, respect your mom. That's what's important."
When the subject then turns to a potential superfight with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, though, and a surprisingly frank answer is offered. At least at first glance.
"Jon Jones, in his class, is the best," Silva said. "If I fight Jon Jones, I don't think I'm going to win. Jon Jones is different. He's large. He's young. But, in the fight, I see in Jon Jones, I see myself from a long time ago. He's very smart."
But is this really how Silva feels, or are these just classic Anderson Silva mind games? After all, just moments before offering his Jones answer, Silva made a point of making sure all the gathered reporters saw him smear butter all over a large slice of bread before devouring it, just four days before the UFC 162 weigh-in, as if to flaunt the fact he has no fear of missing weight.
When lunch is finished (for those curious, Silva went with a t-bone steak, plain baked potato, and spinach), it's time to get down to business and discuss Saturday's fight with the undefeated Weidman.
And it's as if a light switch flipped in Silva's brain.
The coy, gregarious, English-speaking lunch host has suddenly lost interest. Capable translator Derek Lee, who's been quiet up until this point, is back to work. Silva's speaking in Portuguese the rest of the way, and is making it obvious he's texting people on his cell phone while rattling off his answers to reporters' questions.
What type of challenges does Weidman present? "There's not really much to be said," Silva said through Lee. "He's a guy that fought up the rankings, and he's having his shot at the belt, just like I had my shot at the belt, so there's really not much to be said. This is his chance."
How about those fighters, including welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, who have predicted a Weidman victory? "This is a Brazilian saying," he said. "Maybe somebody that loses something and is hurt over it, or someone that doesn't have something and is hurting over it. The point is, I can do things that other people think are very hard to do. Things that maybe to Georges St-Pierre are impossible, to me they seem very easy and I can do them. It's not about winning or losing anymore, it's what I want to do."
Since Silva has made it clear he doesn't want to talk much about Weidman, I turn the subject back to pound-for-pound talk. What about Fedor Emelianenko, I ask? Silva left "The Last Emperor" off his all-time greats list last week.
Silva puts down the phone and perks back up. "Fedor, in his time, he was the best at one point," Silva said. "But in my opinion, B.J. is the best of all-time."
He's asked about where he places himself among the elite mix. As Silva has done with so many of his fights, MMA's pound-for-pound champ and philosopher king finishes with a flourish.
"I think I'm getting there," Silva said. "I'm right there in the mix but I'm getting to that level of being thrown in there with the Chuck Liddells and Randy Coutures and Royce Gracie, Tank Abbott, [Ken] Shamrock, those guys who really built the sport and made a difference when this sport needed it. I'm building up to become to that level.
"It's about what the guys have done," Silva continued. "You can't deny what they've given to the sport. Not just Tank Abbott, but Tito [Ortiz] and Chuck and B.J. and all those guys who came up. It feels like sometimes maybe the newer ones who are coming up now forget about that, and they don't realize what kind of a road was paved for those young guys to come in today."