Less than 10 months after his title bid against Chris Weidman ended in a ghastly scene, former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva sat perched upon a stage on a Tuesday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, his tortured screams and mangled leg replaced by a seemingly endless cascade of easy smiles and even a sampling of his best Whitney Houston falsetto.
The memories of that night at UFC 168 will always linger for Silva, when a checked leg kick led to the shattering of his left fibula and tibia -- as gruesome an end to a celebrated dynasty as could be written -- but for now Silva's story continues. With surgery and rehabilitation nearly behind him, the 39-year-old intends to return in early 2015, fighting in a blockbuster fight against Stockton's favorite son, Nick Diaz.
And in truth, it's a moment that Silva once believed would never come.
"I play around because I have to play around," Silva acknowledged through a translator. "But it's something I don't like to remember too much. I went through the worst month of my life. It was a lot of pain the moment when I broke my leg. When I realized my leg was broken, I thought my career was over. So a million things went through my mind.
"You might think that depression is not something serious, but I was depressed. I was very upset, and if I didn't have the people that I have by my side, maybe I wouldn't come back."
Tuesday's Silva was a far different man from the placid figure we've seen appear under the hot lights of press events. That checklist of stock non-answers had vanished; instead the former champion was introspective, and above all, honest when confronted by his demons of the past year, revealing that the moment which struck him most throughout the whole process was the day he first limped into his California home.
"I couldn't fly, I couldn't be on the airplane because of the pressure on my leg," Silva remembered, "and when I got off the bus ... my kids were there. Little Joao was there, and the first thing he said was: ‘Daddy, everything is good. We love you.' That was the most [emotional] moment. I never imagined that I would arrive home with my leg broken and see all my family there in that situation."
Over the months since, Silva has slowly worked with his team of doctors and coaches to rebuild both his mind and body, reacquainting himself with lessons he first learned long ago. He acknowledged that although the process has been trying, the reality of his situation has forced him to reflect back on the mistakes he made both personally and technically as his record-setting title run stretched into its eighth year, and that the patience and personal growth he has undergone since has led him into a "new phase" of his life.
"If things didn't happen in the timeframe he wanted, he wouldn't get unmotivated," said Dr. Marcio Tannure, the UFC physician who assisted Silva the night of his injury. "And he surprised all of us. He recovered very, very quickly and he surprised all of us. But you have to understand that you can't just look at the injury.
"With Anderson's injury, you've got to separate the human being from the athlete. You've got to worry about him as a regular person. For him to come back, you have to understand that he's been away for a year, so this return has to be gradual, a little bit slower, for the muscles and the tendons to be able to support him, for the bones to be able to support him, and mainly for him to overcome any mental block. Anyone who goes through that was going to have some fear, and I think it's something that you're only going to get (past) in training everyday. He's asked me if he's going to be able to kick and I tell him that, yes, he's only going to believe that he can kick when he kicks."
In that regard, Silva said that very little of his athletic ability has been lost due to the injury, and that he is able to execute all old movements throughout his current training sessions.
"Right after I got injured and I recuperated and I started kicking, I didn't have a lot of strength," Silva explained. "I lost some strength in my leg, which is normal, but now I'm recuperating and I'm working specific work to recuperate my strength in my leg. Everyday that goes by, I'm going back to my origins and being able to kick without any fear, and I believe that I on fight night I will be 100-percent.
"When in doubt, I'll kick from the hip up," he jokingly added.
Silva's coaches explained that their present focus is to build strength in Silva's legs, rebuild his base, and prepare the former champion to face the rigors of a fight camp. They hope to have him functioning at 100-percent by December, then advance into full-on contact drills and sparring before Silva faces Diaz in the main event of UFC 183 on January 31, 2015.
In true form, Silva maintained with a smile that the Diaz fight will only be the first of the seven left he said he owes the UFC. The promise sounds like pipe dream for an athlete his age, but hey, "The Spider" has never been one for the ordinary. And if that road should lead back to a third match-up against Weidman, it's no surprise that Silva suggested he would welcome it.
"This thing about returning, it's because I feel that I let something go in this whole road, fighting," Silva said. "In my last fights, I let something go, and I'm looking for that again. That's what I'm after.
"After I got injured, I learned to value a few things that I had let go of, some things that I had left behind, and that changed me a lot. I'm more mature, I'm in a different phase [in my life]. So I'm very happy to be able to come back and do this again. I thought I wouldn't be able to fight again, so I'm training even more now. Every day I'm more enthusiastic about training. My master is holding me back in training, he tells me I don't have to run every day. Now I want to run every day. I couldn't run for a whole month, I was just seeing people run, so now I'm running everyday like Forrest Gump.
"I lost a lot of things because of my personality," Silva finished, "and I'm learning to deal with that and to understand that a lot of things need to change. And I'm very happy to have a lot of people rooting for me. I want to come back and I want to give everyone happiness."