Silva held the Pride 205-pound title for more than five years. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Pride 28 “High Octane”
Oct. 31, 2004 -- Saitama, Japan
While Silva had no shortage of major rivalries over the years, perhaps his greatest feud came against “Rampage” Jackson. Silva and Jackson simply did not like each other, and Jackson was consumed with unseating Silva from his throne as Pride middleweight champion. Silva defeated Jackson at Pride “Final Conflict 2003,” but both men had already fought earlier that same evening, and Jackson protested a questionable standup on the part of the referee that led to the finish. A rematch for the title seemed a natural to resolve who the better man was.
When Jackson and Silva fought again at Pride 28, they delivered arguably the greatest bout in the history of MMA. After an epic staredown, the fighters engaged in an exciting, back-and-forth war. The winner was in doubt until the very end, when Silva began unloading on Jackson with knees. It was similar to their first fight, when the referee eventually had to step in. The referee was not needed the second time, as Silva knocked Jackson unconscious and Rampage tumbled through the Pride ropes.
Jackson would defeat a faded Silva via knockout in the third bout of their trilogy years later. It would provide a measure of revenge in one of the sport’s all-time great rivalries, but when they met at their peaks, Silva was the better man.
Pride 33 “Second Coming”
Feb. 24, 2007 -- Las Vegas
Pride had only featured one middleweight champion for most of its history. Silva won the title in his second bout with Sakuraba and retained it for more than five years. Silva was not undefeated during that period, but he came out on top every time the title was on the line -- until he faced Henderson again.
Henderson-Silva 2 was not originally supposed to be a title match. Henderson had been competing at a lower weight class, but Pride wanted an American to fight Silva in Las Vegas. Henderson insisted on it being for the Pride middleweight championship. He had wanted a rematch with Silva for years and would get the chance to avenge that loss and capture the middleweight title on the same night.
The second fight between Henderson and Silva would go much different than the first. Silva looked completely out of sorts, and Henderson dominated the bout from the beginning. A left hook knocked Silva out cold, and he was no longer the Pride middleweight champion. Pride itself would soon no longer exist, and the apex of Silva’s career would pass.
UFC 79 “Nemesis”
Dec. 29, 2007 -- Las Vegas
For years, the top dream match in MMA was Silva vs. Liddell. Both were feared strikers. Silva was the 205-pound champion of Pride, and Liddell was the 205-pound champion of the UFC.
Fans of Liddell and fans of Silva were convinced their man was the best. Silva himself made it clear that he wanted to, ahem, “fight” Chuck.
When the UFC purchased Pride, it finally opened up the opportunity to make the fight. Unfortunately, the luster was off slightly. Silva had lost his Pride title to Henderson, and Liddell then lost his UFC title to Jackson. Liddell was matched with Keith Jardine in what was supposed to be a tune-up for Silva at UFC 76, but Liddell lost the bout. White decided to stop stalling and just make Silva-Liddell, even though each man was coming off two straight losses.
The buildup to Silva-Liddell could have gone better, but the fight delivered everything that was expected of it and more. Silva and Liddell exchanged power punches, and neither man would back down. At one point, Liddell had Silva rocked, but the Brazilian refused to go for a takedown and instead just started throwing back wild punches of his own. In front of one of the hottest crowds in UFC history, Silva and Liddell delivered on the years of anticipation. Liddell took the judges’ decision, but there were no losers.
UFC 84 “Ill Will”
May 24, 2008 -- Las Vegas
With three consecutive losses, Silva was widely considered a spent force when he fought Jardine at UFC 84. Jardine bristled prior to the fight about the fact that he was a narrow betting underdog, feeling he ought to have been favored against the declining Silva.
Jardine’s self-confidence proved to be misplaced, as he would provide the most spectacular knockout of Silva’s UFC career. Silva charged forward with his typical aggressive style and hurt Jardine with heavy punches to the side of the head and the ear. Silva swarmed, holding Jardine’s head down and landing additional punches until “The Dean of Mean” lay unconscious. As Silva jumped on top of the Octagon and the crowd erupted, he provided a throwback to the era when he ran through opponents in devastating fashion. The sport’s biggest stage had shifted from Japan to the United States, as had Silva’s style and electric energy.
UFC 132 “Cruz vs. Faber 2”
July 2, 2011 -- Las Vegas
Going into UFC 132, Silva had lost five of his previous seven fights. However, every one of those losses came to a former UFC or Pride champion and legend of the sport: Jackson, Henderson, Liddell, Mirko Filipovic and Rich Franklin. This was not the case with his next loss to Chris Leben. No disrespect to Leben, a tough competitor with a gladiator’s heart, but he is a lot closer to a journeyman than the perennial champions that previously bested Silva.
What was worse was the way Silva lost. He landed a big hook on Leben early and immediately moved to finish. Leben’s chin withstood the shot, and he fired back a counter. Silva’s ability to take a punch, worn down from years of punishment, was gone. Leben dropped Silva and quickly finished the fight with additional punches. Silva’s fighting spirit and offensive ability were still there, but there is not much of a future in fighting for a man who can no longer withstand a punch.