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Wanderlei Silva talks ‘Rampage’ Jackson, a fighters union, UFC split, retirement and more

CURITIBA, Brazil — The fourth chapter of the rivalry between Wanderlei Silva and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson takes place at the Bellator 206 card in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 29, and MMA Fighting flew to Curitiba to chat with “The Axe Murderer” about his upcoming fight, whether or not it will be his last time in a MMA cage, his tumultuous past with the UFC, his political career, and much more.

Watch the interview above (click on the CC button for English translation) or read the full transcript below.

Why did you decide to move back to Curitiba after living in Las Vegas for so long?

It wasn’t for one reason only, but many reasons. First of all, I love my country, and Brazil was going through a moment of protests, and I thought that it’s good that influential people supported Brazil in a moment like this. I came back to support the protests. I obviously also came back because of my family, it’s my country, and it’s really revitalized. I didn’t like living in the United States that much. I was there for business. I was treated well in that country, did good business, good fights, but my time in the United States was over and thank God I’m back to our country.

Do you still have your gym in Las Vegas or you’re not linked to it anymore?

I do. I have a school in Las Vegas. Whoever goes to Las Vegas can visit it. The gym is with Leandro, who was from Macaco’s team and is now with Wand Team in Las Vegas. The gym is doing great, full of people. If you wanna stop by and visit, he’s our friend. Just go there and say you’re Wand’s friend and you’re at home.

How do you compare the level of training you had there with the one you have here in Curitiba now?

I think that the structure… To tell you the truth, I had the best gym in the world in 2008, and I say that structure doesn’t mean that much. What matters the most is your master and the athletes you have. People are very deluded. ‘Oh, I’m going to train overseas.’ It’s way harder to get 10, 15 good guys out there than here. Here at Evolucao Thai, I have 40 professionals to train in the morning. There’s a heavyweight, a lightweight, a grappler, someone with good kicks, good punches, so we can emulate every kind of style. This illusion that training is better out there, it’s not true. Of course, unless you go to Rafael Cordeiro’s team, it’s a whole other level. Other than that, regular gyms, I’d recommend you to stay here.

You were not motivated for a while after that battle with the UFC, the difficult relationship with Dana White. How important was Bellator coming to play to fuel that fire again?

I had some misunderstandings with my former boss and that was something great that I learned. Lessons from Wanderlei: Don’t fight with your boss, it’s not worth it. In reality, the weak side always get screwed. Not that you always get screwed, but the boss does the events and he’s right, it’s his business and he has to put whoever he wants to fight. But it’s complicated when you have the sport in your hands and have to follow certain rules, and those are the rules I wanted them to follow at the time. We tried to create a fighters’ union and that didn’t please them because they negotiate the purse money directly with the fighter or his manager. Many times they use a win or a loss to negotiate. There are two guys at the same level, both making 20, and one of them will go to 50, 70. They put them to fight, and the other one gets lost. I think money could be better distributed in MMA. If an athlete makes more, he can prepare better, have a better life, and help the sport grow. Athletes should be paid better in order for us to get to the next level.

These are important topics, like fighters’ union, but do you regret the way everything went down?

That’s another thing I learned: When two lions collide, it’s a fight. I met the guy, Dana White, and we collided. He’s a lion, and so am I. I hold no grudges toward him now, he was a great boss, I made a lot of money there, did good fights. Americans are different than Brazilians. Brazilians sometimes expect the boss to take feelings into consideration: ‘he’s a friend,’ but that doesn’t exist. What matters is how many views you can get, how much promotion do you bring. So, for young fighters, I say promote your fights well. I’m not saying that promoting is going out there talking a bunch of crap, but portray yourself in a successful way, look your opponent in the eye and be serious. I’m not in favor of shaking hands. There’s respect? Yes, but you and your opponent don’t have to lick each other. It’s your opponent, you have to be serious. And it’s good to act like a warrior, a samurai, with the sword ready, going there to kill or be killed. Hugging and kissing each other, taking selfies, that doesn’t exist. It’s proven that rivalries sell fights. A healthy rivalry, man to man, is always welcome. We wanna see great fights. Lots of fighters, lots of events, but few classics. There’s an opportunity for you, who’s ready, to make a name for yourself. A fighter had to make 20 fights to break through in the past. Now, three or four good fights and you’re a star already. You see what’s happening with ‘Borrachinha.’ Those four fights already changed his life. That’s the tip. There’s more opportunity, but you have to act professionally to bring all the views we can.

This type of rivalry was what we had in your return fight against Sonnen, but the result wasn’t what you expected. What are your thoughts on the fight, the rivalry with Sonnen and the weight of coming back after such a long time?

My return was interesting because Bellator gave me a stage that was worthy of the return of Wanderlei Silva. I was the main event, sold out. Bellator guys said it was the biggest ratings in promotion history, we really broke all records, so I’m happy to bring all this attention from the audience, to see that Wanderlei Silva is stronger than ever. Bellator is indirectly creating the stars’ division — I’m 42 now — where stars fight each other. Many times two or three minutes of two guys brawling is better than 45 minutes of guys licking each other on the ground. One guy punches, the other guy punches, there’s no explosion in the fight, no blood, no bites, no stomp to the face. People wanna see brawls. We have to do what the audience wants. I think this division, Bellator is being very smart. They brought Lyoto now, a nice acquisition. I’ll tell you what Lyoto told me. Lyoto is becoming a sensational master. Lyoto’s contract with the UFC ran out and they didn’t call him to talk. Bellator called him and they had a good conversation, so ‘good, deal.’ But the UFC heard about it called Lyoto, ‘Lyoto, why haven’t you talked to us? We’ll match the offer.’ The offer was really good, to make a good number. I also make good money. So he called his father and said ‘dad, my UFC contract was over and I agreed verbally with Bellator, but nothing is signed.’ Lyoto’s father turned to him and said ‘Lyoto, did you give them your word?’, and he said ‘I did,’ so. That shows a bit of the martial arts philosophy. I spoke with Lyoto in New York now and his family really is one of a kind. Martial arts isn’t only about punches and kicks, it’s about our conduct. I was really happy with this story, and seeing that martial arts really is taking that direction.

You said we’re missing some rivalry and blood and brawls in MMA, and that’s all we’re going to have with your fight with Rampage, right?

Absolutely. Our fight… I don’t know. He keeps complaining about wrestlers, but I wanna see if he will have the courage to stand in front of me and trade punches. People talk, talk, but when it’s time to fight me they all wanna hug me. When they give me a striker that agrees to trade with me, it’s going to be great. I’m getting ready, I have a good life now, eating well, sleeping well, nutritionist, massage, trainers. I have a 30-person staff to help me. It’s a great moment right now because I’m not fighting for a belt, I really am fighting to bring excitement for my fans. My fans know what to expect from me, and that’s what I’ll give them.

Rampage lost twice to you back in PRIDE, but he was able to avenge one when you fought last time in the UFC. Does that give you extra motivation?

It does. And I’m upset with the guy. People ask me if I don’t like him. To like, like, I really like my mom, but even the old lady annoys me sometimes. He really hit me with that punch last time, knocked me out, and gave me an extra punch on the ground, so that gives me room for maybe giving back the kindness. This time, I face this fight as more of a brawl. The difference between fighting and brawling is a fine line. Sometimes the guy is losing a fight and the other one is bigger, had better cardio, is more technical, but you start a brawl and it takes his spirit, makes him feel pain. When the guy feels pain his spirit goes away, and Rampage is like that. I know that if I make him feel pain his spirit will run away and I will win the fight.

Do you miss soccer kicks in moments like this?

I do. But we’ll see when the time comes, anything can happen. In this fight, I don’t know. We’ll see.

You had other fights when you came close to throwing them, like against Bisping. Depending on the heat of the moment…

Oh, the heat of the moment. We’ll see. This fight… Watch it because anything can happen.

It’s at heavyweight. How does that help you?

I didn’t even choose the weight. ‘Oh, he is [286 pounds].’ F**k it, it’s his problem. I’ve always fought heavyweights, gave away size difference, [66 pounds], and I wanna go back to the origins. There was no weight division in the origins of MMA, you’d fight anyone. I want to bring that back, to really fight bigger guys. I wanna show it’s possible to put on great spectacles, like that one between Fedor and Frank Mir. It was a great fight. Three minutes, but three minutes of exciting action. That’s what fans want to see. There’s many fights, but less emotion. I think that masters’ division Bellator is doing will bring the excitement back to make our sport grow again.

How much do you weigh now, and how much will you weigh on fight night?

I’m at [231lbs] now. Actually, I’m eating well now, so cutting weight is no more. I wanna fight guys that are around my size, and no weight limit.

This win would be special for you because of the rivalry. Do you think it could be the ideal moment to close your career on a high note?

I’m facing this as maybe it is my last fight. I will run for federal deputy now. It’s a new career, a new time in my life. I’m seeing the need for it. There are guys being elected that have no business being there, a bunch of poor guys, dishonest guys that steal from the people. You have to put guys that have an ideal and already have money to live so they don’t need to steal from the people. I will do this fight and then I’ll run for congress and if I get elected, I’ll go one direction, and if I don’t get elected, I’ll go another one. But the intention is that maybe this is my last fight.

So if you’re elected, this is the last one?

No. I think that being elected or not, maybe this is my last fight. I’ve done enough. But there are a lot of people coming back. I think that my performance will say if it’s my last one or not.

You’ve always mentioned a fight with Fedor. Is that something that could maybe convince you to stick around a little longer?

There’s Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort, too. Dan Henderson has my PRIDE belt that he won… He won well, I was sick that night in PRIDE 33. There’s a bunch of fights to happen. Thank God Bellator is paying very well, it’s a strong company. Fighters who aren’t happy, call Scott Coker because the doors are open, he’s giving everyone fights and paying well, treating us well. Whoever wants to come, come, follow Lyoto’s steps and my steps because Bellator is doing a great job.

I don’t know if you followed this, but Leslie Smith ended up released by the UFC because of her work with Project Spearhead. What are your thoughts on this, releasing her because she was fighting for fighters’ rights?

Here’s the thing: like every government, government likes to divide to dominate. It’s easier to promote a war between white and black, north and south, religious and gays. It’s easier to divide the people and govern. Fighters being divided makes it way easier for them to negotiate and pay us less, make the fights they want and profit more. It’s the law of the market, but at the same time it’s unfair because a guy that makes 20 or 30 today could be making 100, 150. Or we unite, or everyone remains small.

Do you think it’s close to becoming a reality or will still take a long time for this scenario to change?

I think the fighters that are in evidence now, the new stars, have a better conscience. I’m always open to talking. Everybody knows my Instagram, can send me messages asking anything you want. Everything you’ll go through, I’ve been there. Starting a career, becoming famous, being a champion, being the best in the world, everyone patting on your back. I know how that’s like. Any question you wanna ask, fighter or fan, ask away because I’m willing to help the fighters. I think it will be a better future for us if we unite.

In my opinion, Brazilian fighters are not very into this cause yet, especially the new generation. What you do think needs to change for Brazilian fighters to realize they have to pay attention to that?

It’s complicated because it’s an individual sport. We have teams, but everyone is on their own.

Do they fear retaliations from the promotions?

Yes. This case, releasing this girl, really is to not let them others stand. It’s hard to organize because the reality is, all the power is in few people’s hands. It’s hard to go against the system. But we have to do our best.

The UFC was sold for more than $4 billion dollars two years ago. Were you happy for Dana White and the Fertitta brothers for achieving such an impressive mark for the sport? What are your thoughts on this?

I think it’s excellent. I think a piece of that could come to those who fought in the promotion, right? Everybody helped it grow. Personally, I can’t complain. I made good money in the UFC, was always paid well, have my savings, but I was smart. My father always said, ‘money was made to be saved.’ But if you go out and spend, buying boats and mansions and everything, you end up… It’s tough to see old fighters that have no money. It’s complicated. But it’s the law of the business. That’s how business works. The owner of the business takes the risks, but also gets the profit. It’s natural.

When you had that situation with the UFC, one of the things you complained about was the video game deal because you weren’t paid for it. I saw that you’re back in the game now. Did you negotiate that? Are you being paid now?

No, no, only my image. It’s the law of the contract, right? When you sign a contract you give away all your rights. What can I do? That happens because we don’t have a union to defend us. It’s complicated. You create a union and I’ll fire you. It has to be someone so powerful to create this union, someone that will never be fired. Then I think it will work.

Do you think it has to be someone like Conor McGregor?

Yes, I do. Conor McGregor, Cormier, now that he has two belts. The champions are the only one that can make the difference.

We mentioned Belfort earlier. He just left the UFC. The rematch almost happened in the UFC, but he pulled out. Would you like that to happen?

Of course I would. Vitor Belfort would be a great acquisition to Bellator. He’s a great fighter and owes me that fight. That rematch almost happened… I don’t believe he broke his hand. He’s a professional fighter, an old dog. His nickname on TUF was ‘Diva’ because he used 15 bandages on his hand, Is that guy gonna break his hand? Never. I don’t know, I can’t… I don’t think so. I think he chickened out. So come to Bellator and let’s settle this. But don’t break your hand this time, ok?

You tried to bring Bellator to a soccer stadium in Curitiba. Do you think this is the ideal fight to bring Bellator?

That would be the perfect fight to bring them and put 50,000 people in the Arena and make history. Bringing a great promotion here, a good card here, we have a lot of Brazilians. Me against Vitor Belfort in the Arena would be the perfect debut for Bellator in Brazil.

Another topic that you mention a lot on social media is your son, Thor. Do you see him following your steps in MMA one day?

That’s too personal. Being a fighter is a career that demands a lot from you, you have to want that. I’m teaching him. He started training when he was five, so he’s in the gym for nine years now. He does everything, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, but I see he’s just like me, we have to find him an opponent and put him to fight now. I’ll find him a boxing match, a Muay Thai fight here in the city, and air it on your website. I’ll send you the link after. We’ll see Thor fighting. He has to do something. I don’t know if he will turn professional, but he has to earn a black belt.

Watching him train in the gym, do you think he has what it takes if he choses that path?

He has a future. He’s left-handed and does well. We’ll know for sure the day he fights, but he has the genetics and all the ability to become a great champion.

So who knows if one day that will bring you back to MMA, fighting on the came card of your son?

Father and son on the same card would be beautiful. Who knows, one day.

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