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Anderson Silva's smile is back ... and that could be bad news for Nick Diaz

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Esther Lin

TORRANCE, CALIF. - There were no one-word answers. No sarcastic eye rolls. No exaggerated sighs.

Nor was there a bloated posse of soccer stars, has-been action movie stars, and assorted hanger-ons.

Indeed, the Anderson Silva who recently held court with local reporters at his Muay Thai College was loose and relaxed, gracious and good humored, streamlined and in control.

With just over a week to go until his improbable comeback from the gruesome leg injury most assumed had finished his career, the smile has returned to the face of the greatest competitor mixed martial arts has ever known.

"My mind now, it is good," Silva said.

Gone is the cloud that seemed to hang over Silva's head during the latter days of his record, seven-year title reign, the one that caused him to snarl and snap and threaten to knock out all of Chael Sonnen's teeth.

Even the questions Silva knew were coming, which will only be asked with a greater frequency as the fight draws near, were answered in good cheer.

Like the one about his left leg, which, in case you're clicking on an MMA story for the first time in your life, was broken in horrible fashion when he threw a kick at Chris Weidman at UFC 168.

"When I start [training], three months ago, my focus is my leg, to get strong, more power, physical therapy," he said. "But when I start the camp training for fight, is normal. I go kick, and is normal. The same training for my fight."

The goodwill extends to Silva's opponent at UFC 183 on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas, Nick Diaz, who also happens to be making his return to the Octagon after an exile for entirely different reasons.

The buildup to Diaz fights are often filled with trash talk, but there's been nothing but respect shown by the two sides, something which hasn't gone unnoticed by Silva's camp.

"He hasn't talked much," said Silva's longtime manager, Ed Soares. "He's been very respectful."

"I see all the time, Nick this, Nick that," Silva said. "I don't have problems with Nick. I think this fight is the best for martial arts. Nick has the technique, I have my technique. It's the same conditions. Nick don't fight for long time, I don't fight for long time. I think this is a great fight for the UFC, for his fans, for my fans here, in Brazil, in the world."

So what caused Silva's change in outlook? Soares says the time away in UFC 168's aftermath provided needed perspective.

"He had time to unwind, he had time to decompress, and he got to spend time with his family," Soares said. "The weight came off his shoulders and it made all the difference."

Silva confirms this in his own roundabout way, pointing out that not only was he UFC champion for seven years - and with it, the intense pressure in the spotlight that comes with it - but that he also traveled the world for years before he even landed in the UFC, winning titles from Japan's Shooto to England's Cage Rage.

"More important [is] being together, myself with my family," Silva said. "In London, I see the belt for four years. When I see the UFC, my first fight, and go to the belt. When I go to the belt and when I win, for seven years, I don't stay together with my family for [as long as] three months, for seven years."

So why did Silva, whose legacy is secure, feel the need to return? He admits the motivations the drive other fighters don't apply.

Money? He already has plenty, with estates in upscale Palos Verdes and back home in Brazil as well as his sparking training facility. "I don't fight for the money," he said. "Because, I'm working hard for the UFC for long time. I have money for my family, but I fight because I love it."

A return to the title? He'll wait to cross that bridge. "This is a good question for Dana White, not me. My focus now is for Nick Diaz. When I finish the fight, I'm winning, I go training for next fight. I don't know to have the chance to fight for the belt. But Dana gives me one more chance for the belt, I go fight."

There's a temptation to read too deep into meaning of Silva's moods. Maybe it's a ploy. Maybe he's trying to lull Diaz into a false sense of security. Maybe he knows he's not going to be the fighter he once was, and is trying to throw everyone off the scent.

Or maybe it's something more simple. Regardless of what happens in the Diaz fight, the ugliness against Weidman will not be his final chapter. He'll never have to go through life wondering "what if."

Anderson Silva, the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, will get to step into the Octagon and ply his trade one more time. That alone is enough reason to smile.

"This is me," Silva said. "This is my life. I love fighting."