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When London calls, Anderson Silva answers

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Anderson Silva will fight Michael Bisping in Bisping's backyard Saturday, but London isn’t the terrifying place it was back in 2004.

Silva was not the dominant mixed martial artist back in those days. With a 13-2 record, he was on the verge of winning the first belt of his career, but had to travel to England and beat Lee Murray in enemy territory. He had fought Japanese fighters on their home turf at PRIDE, but Murray in London was as enemy territory as it could get.

"Lightning" Murray was the star of the show. After compiling an 8-1-1 record, capped off by a first-round submission over Jorge Rivera at UFC 46, he earned a shot at the vacant Cage Rage middleweight championship. They wanted him as champion, and Silva got the call from London to face him.

As soon as Silva entered the hotel on fight week, he knew he wasn’t welcome there. Murray wasn’t just a typical MMA bad boy, and his conviction to 25 years in jail for the largest cash robbery in British history proved it few years later. At the Wembley Conference Centre, less than 30 miles away from the O2 Arena where "The Spider" faces Bisping in the main event of UFC Fight Night 84, the Brazilian proved he had cold blood.

"Lee Murray was the man for Cage Rage, like (Conor) McGregor is today," said MMA veteran Vitor Ribeiro, who cornered Silva in that fight. They never trained together prior to that week, but "Shaolin" was in London for some seminars and "The Spider" needed a jiu-jitsu coach in his corner. "Everything was against Anderson."

Twenty four hours before the fight, Silva and Murray came face to face at the weigh-ins. They had to be separated in a chaotic scene. Murray was surrounded by his friends in London, and Silva didn’t show any emotion whatsoever despite his opponent’s history.

"There was this heavy environment around Murray," Ribeiro said. "One thing is to be respected because you’re really good at fighting, but being feared is different. You think like, ‘man, if I beat this guy here, away from my country, he can get 100 guys and shut down the hotel. His guys are at the stands, thugs everywhere’.

"Being in England and feeling that kind of environment is complicated. You see the thugs, the promoter supporting it, or doing nothing about it, that makes you worry about it, but thank God nothing happened outside the cage. If he was a mafia guy or not, if he was arrested after that, it didn’t affect the fight."

Silva’s entourage includes more than a dozen people today, including fellow UFC fighters and MMA veterans, but it wasn’t the case back then. When Murray and his friends started teasing him after the weigh-ins, mentioning Murray’s knockout win over Silva’s teammate Jose Landi-Jons the year before, the Brazilian only had a few friends around him.

"It was complicated," said Ribeiro. "Anderson had a name already, but he didn’t have the status he has today, this staff. If it happened today and his team got into a fight, Anderson would have 15 or 20 guys with him. He brings 15 guys with him for fights today. Anderson only had two guys with him that time. If they got into a fight there, it would be complicated."

They never got into it, saving that animosity for fight night. Battling for the vacant Cage Rage title, Silva proved to be the better fighter. Silva rocked his opponent with a head kick in his first attack, then knocked him down with a right hand in the third round. After Silva was announced the champion via unanimous decision, Murray limped out of the cage, a courtesy of Silva’s with vicious leg kicks.

"Anderson started strong, but I was worried because they wanted him to lose," said Ribeiro. "Even if he dominated the rounds, they could still give Lee Murray the win. But it was a massacre."

After that night, Silva’s and Murray’s careers took different paths. Murray is currently incarcerated in a Moroccan prison, while the Brazilian looks to work his way up to the UFC title he held for years. Silva once again returns to London to fight a Brit, but Bisping’s constant verbal attacks aren’t close to what he lived in the city 12 years before.

"It’s not my first time as the villain," Silva recently told TV show Passando a Guarda about his return to London. "It’s like that story, you die as a hero or live enough to be the villain. I’m going there to do my job and I hope people enjoy it."