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Wanderlei Silva has been waiting a long time for this, and he's not shy to say so. When Silva meets rival The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil coach Vitor Belfort at UFC 147, it'll be a rematch 14 years in the making, after Belfort needed just 44 seconds to crush Silva back at the UFC's inaugural trip to Sau Paulo in 1998.
As one can imagine, that loss never sat well with Silva, and the chance to avenge it on the biggest stage means June can't come soon enough.
"This is the fight of my life," Silva proclaimed on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I've waited all my career for this fight. I've waited for (14) years for this fight. He is one of the guys I really, really want to fight before I (retire). This fight is the fight of my dreams."
These days retirement seems to come up more often than not for Silva. Luckily, by now he seems to have acknowledged that fact, or at least grow accustomed to it, and so he has very few reservations about taking a trip down memory lane.
"I'm so happy for my career," Silva reflectively said.
"I've been fighting since I was 13 years old. I've fought for 21 years of my life. But I still feel really good. I feel really motivated."
Over that time, Silva has witnessed an explosion of Brazilian culture into the modern MMA landscape that no one could have foreseen. Now South America's largest country has seemingly become the center of the fighting world. With Brazilian contenders shooting through each of the UFC's division, a landmark stadium show already on the books, and TUF: Brazil shattering the rating standards set by its American counterpart, MMA has evolved from a niche sport into a Brazilian national pastime.
In Silva's eyes, UFC President Dana White is the biggest cause of the growth.
"He's a really good businessman. He brings really good jobs with the UFC," Silva explained. "A lot of guys were thinking bad things about MMA before, but now they have a different vision. The fighters have more respect in society. They make it to more events. We go to the good programs, we have more fun."
When the subject of Brazil arises, it's easy to see how dramatically Silva's role has shifted. He's no longer just a fighter, but also a national ambassador to the sport, with an entire generation raised on the violent exploits of "The Ax Murderer."
With that in mind, the idea of retirement no longer seems as daunting as it once may have. In fact, Silva says he finally has a plan for life after fighting. He hopes to work inside the UFC, focusing on bringing charitable events to gyms throughout the world, helping young fighters get the opportunities he never had.
While that time may not be here yet, he's confident he'll know when to call it quits.
"You need to respect the body. We're not 22, 23 years old. I'm 35. I'm not looking 35, but I'm 35," Silva laughed. "But I'm not too old, I'm not too young."
In the interim, it's not like Silva's plate is particularly empty. First there's the national publicity parade that is TUF: Brazil, and then of course, an extraordinarily formidable challenge in Belfort. Silva is understandably the heavy underdog heading into the fight, but it almost seems criminal to count him out after the facial reconstruction he sent Cung Le's way.
Even more intriguing, if Silva can stun the world and emerge victorious, claiming wins over Belfort, Le, and Michael Bisping over his last four fights, "The Ax Murderer" could potentially put together one of the most improbable contender runs in UFC history. With his immense marketing muscle, the notion isn't as far-fetched as it may seem.
But again, that's a lot of "what ifs," and Silva has never been one for skepticism. All he knows is regardless of how this final chapter plays out, when it's all said and done, he'll still have one final box left on the checklist. An ultimate farewell for a legend of the sport; back to the place where it all began.
"Maybe I can make my last fight in Japan," Silva concluded. "Maybe, I don't know. But we're going to check with the boss when they're going to have their next show there. I want to make my last fight in Japan."
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