Sunday, July 3, 2011 | 1:30 a.m.
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Well, they came out swinging at each other as advertised — for all of 27 seconds.
The UFC 132 co-main event between middleweights Wanderlei Silva (33-11-1 MMA, 3-6 UFC) and Chris Leben (26-7 MMA, 12-6 UFC) played out in wild fashion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Saturday night. Leben threw three consecutive uppercuts, the last of which floored Silva and sent him away with a devastating knockout loss in the first round.
“Wanderlei came forward and hit me,” Leben said. “I hit him. You know what happened after that.”
The Las Vegas-based Silva, who received perhaps the loudest ovation of the night as he walked to the octagon, didn’t anticipate coming back after an 18-month injury layoff like this. Officials rushed the former PRIDE champion to the hospital even before UFC President Dana White could speak to him or the promotion’s public relations team could gather a customary quote.
White said in the post-fight press conference that he would urge the 35-year-old Silva to retire after the defeat.
“People love him so much because of the way he fights and his style and the type of person he is,” White said. “But that’s probably the end of the road for Wanderlei.”
It’s nearly guaranteed Silva won’t feel the same. “The Axe Murderer” is known to love fighting more than anyone on the UFC’s roster.
Silva said earlier this week that he hoped to have 10 more bouts and stay in the sport for five more years. That’s hard to imagine after the Leben setback.
“I want to sit down, talk to him and Chuck Liddell-him into it,” White said. “I think that the guy has nothing left to prove. He’s a warrior. People love him all over the world. I don’t want to see that happen to him anymore.”
The Liddell situation is an appropriate one to juxtapose with Silva. White wanted Liddell to retire after he suffered two straight knockout losses, to Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua at UFC 88 and UFC 97, respectively.
Not quite ready to step away, Liddell convinced White to let him have one more bout to see how it went. White obliged. Although Liddell lost in another first round knockout, it’s still conceivable White could grant Silva the same luxury.
Leben, for one, seemed to think Silva had something left. He called Silva his favorite fighter.
“I hit him pretty (darn) hard,” Leben said. “I don’t think anyone would have stayed up.”
The news of Silva's possible retirement put Leben in a reflective mood. He said he was still “blown away” by the opportunity to fight Silva, which he requested for nearly a year.
It was a scary and surreal moment, according to Leben. A memory that will stick with him forever came when all the lights in the arena went dark and the crowd welcomed Silva.
“Most of the time people are cheering for me,” Leben said. “That actually fired me up at first. I was like, ‘what’s up, man? This is my 19th fight in the UFC,’ and they were going crazy for Wanderlei Silva.”
Silva came at Leben early and connected with a big hook. Leben called it Silva’s biggest mistake because, he says, he fights better after getting hit in the face once or twice.
They clinched up after Silva’s strike and that’s when Leben started unloading his uppercuts. He went to the floor and hit Silva a few more times before the referee jumped in to call off the contest.
“To tell you the truth, I never visualized the fight going like it did,” Leben said. “I only visualized it like a three-round war.”