Brazilian lightweight Leandro Silva only had one win in four UFC fights when he decided to move to the United States for better opportunities -- and he saw a short-notice fight with welterweight Lewis Gonzalez as the perfect chance to get a work visa. He gambled with his career, and won.
"I decided to move to the United States to go after my dream, the UFC title, and get out of my comfort zone," Silva told MMA Fighting. "MMA is changing every six months now, so you have to be smart and evolve. I moved to the U.S. to evolve as a fighter and have a better life. And the UFC is an American company and everything happens here.
"I had just arrived in the United States and was applying for my work visa when I get a call from the UFC," he continued. "I told my manager that I would take the fight, despite being on short notice at 170 pounds, because it would make it easier for me to get a work visa. It’s hard to get one."
"Buscape" defeated Gonzalez via unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 70, but a loss could have meant the end of his run as a UFC fighter.
"Life is a risk," Silva said. "I was born in a risky place. I lived in a favela and saw people die every day, saw friends dying, and thank God I survived. I’m not afraid to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you don’t get anywhere. I accepted the fight and I’m happy about that. It was an easy weight cut and I won the fight."
His second UFC win put him in a better place in the organization, and he had time to focus on his evolution as an athlete. Training at American Top Team for a year now, "Buscape" believes he’s on his way to becoming the best lightweight on the planet.
"My technical evolution is pretty clear now, and I have evolved a lot mentally as well," he said. "I train with guys well ranked in the UFC, including the champion Robbie Lawler, so I know how far I can go. I think I can go really far in the UFC and win this belt. I respect every opponent, but I will show my evolution every time I step inside the Octagon until I get this belt. That’s my goal."
Silva returns to the Octagon at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa, Canada, against Jason Saggo. And even though the Brazilian has a no-contest sandwiched by three wins in the Octagon, Silva considers himself riding a four-fight winning streak.
"I don’t see this fight as a no-contest," said Silva, referring to his clash with Drew Dober at UFC Fight Night 62 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "If you look at the fight, I won. It’s not my fault that the referee stopped the fight".
Silva locked a guillotine choke in the second round, and even though Dober never tapped or went out, referee Eduardo Herdy called the end of the bout and awarded "Buscape" the submission victory.
Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission officials initially said they had no power to overturn the result. However, CABMMA announced five days later that Silva-Dober was overturned to a no-contest. "Buscape" disagreed with the decision at the time, and still sees himself as victorious.
"I was already winning, controlling the action standing and trapped him in a guillotine. You can’t say if he was going to tap or escape, and the referee stopped the fight," Silva said. "Sometimes referees stop fights or not, and there’s no coming back. What happened to me was unfair. We see many mistakes and they never overturn results. I consider this a win. And I made it even clearer when I beat (Efrain) Escudero in Mexico, after Escudero tapped Dober in 54 seconds."
Silva’s comments about the controversial finish will likely receive criticism from fans, but he doesn’t care.
"Whoever asks me about this fight, I will always say it’s a win," Silva said. "I proved that in Mexico. It was unnecessary to overturn the result days later. But I’m thinking about the future now. That’s in the past. Whoever asks me about it, I will always say it’s a win. I’m not afraid of critics."
"There’s no point," he said of the idea of fighting Dober one more time. "He’s coming off a win and I’m coming off four wins. If he wants to fight me, he has to win a few more fights, and until then I will already have the belt. Who knows, maybe we’ll give him a title shot. There’s no point doing this fight now. I beat him and then I beat the guy that beat him -- and I was injured when fought Escudero in Mexico. But hey, I’m a UFC fighter and they make the calls."
Leaving his controversial clash with Dober in the past, "Buscape" is excited to fight Saggo in Ottawa. Entering outside territory for the fourth time in four international fights, the American Top Team lightweight calls for a first-round victory.
"Ever since I fought one of the best Japanese fighters (Yoshiaki Takahashi) at Pancrase, I’m always fighting guys in enemy territory," Silva said. "It’s going to be great to fight in Canada. I’m confident in my abilities and I believe I will put on a show there. I will showcase a different style compared to my last fights. I will finish Jason Saggo in the first round. I respect him, I know what he’s going to do, but I train hard everywhere to go there and put on a great performance and win."
Looking for his fourth win in the last five bouts (or fifth victory, if you agree with his arguments), "Buscape" knows it’s a long shot to aim for the 155-pound belt right now. Yet, he thinks he will be holding the lightweight championship belt by the end of 2017.
"I see myself fighting for the belt in three fights. God willing, I will be fighting for the title in 2017," "Buscape" said. "I have a vision, and I will go after it even if people don’t believe in me. Not that they don’t believe in my technique, but I guess they don’t believe it because I’m not even ranked yet. But I’m working hard, and I truly believe I will be fighting for the title in three fights."
Silva is not a top 15 fighter according to the UFC official rankings, and he plans on changing that at UFC Fight Night 89. Aiming for a first-round victory, he "Buscape" knows who he will call out in his post-fight interview.
"I already have a name in my mind, but I won’t say that now because I respect Jason Saggo," Silva said. "After my win Saturday, I will ask for this fight. Let’s see if the UFC gives it to me. But I already know who I want to fight next, and he will be my ticket to the top 15."