Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011 | 8:30 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO — Like 8.8 million other people in America, Wanderlei Silva spent part of last Saturday night watching the inaugural UFC on FOX fight.
Unlike the millions of other viewers, Silva could relate closely to how it finished. Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez 64 seconds into the bout after one big punch, not unlike what happened to Silva 27 seconds into his bout with Chris Leben this summer.
“You can’t tell Cain Velasquez he should retire now because he got knocked out,” Silva said. “Anyone can get knocked out early, one punch early finishes the fight.”
UFC President Dana White publicly expressed that he hoped Silva, 35, would walk away from mixed martial arts after the Leben loss.
But here was “The Axe Murderer” Thursday, answering questions at a press conference a few miles away from the Golden Gate Bridge to promote his next bout. Silva (33-11-1 MMA, 3-6 UFC) is back in a co-main event at Saturday’s UFC 139, facing former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le (7-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) at the HP Pavilion in San Jose.
“I don’t have (retirement) in my mind,” Silva said. “I have trained too hard, and am too good, and in too great condition. I want to fight again and again and again.”
Someone ought to caution Silva, a Las Vegas-based fighter, not to look beyond this weekend’s bout. If it goes the same way as the Leben fight, the pressure to retire will amp up even more considerably.
White has always talked about his concern with legends of the sport holding on too long and inflicting unnecessary damage on their bodies. Another knockout loss for Silva, who rose to fame as the PRIDE middleweight champion, would put him in a similar position to the one old rival Chuck Liddell was in at the end of his career.
White had to convince Liddell to retire after three consecutive first-round knockout losses. But, in Silva’s mind, he’s far from the point Liddell reached.
The last defeat wasn’t an indication that he couldn’t take a punch anymore, according to Silva. It was just that he didn’t defend himself well enough and had a poor game plan.
“The last fight was a learning experience,” Silva said. “I made some mistakes and paid the price. He hit me with an uppercut that was hard enough to drop me, but I’ve thought a lot about what happened. I’ve made improvements.”
Many of the reasons why Silva can’t imagine his fighting career coming to an end were on display Thursday. The fans who showed up for the press conference stayed quiet while a UFC spokesman introduced the fighters — until he got to Silva.
Applause and cheers rang out upon the first mention of Silva’s name. Silva frequently mentions putting on a show for the fans as one of his greatest motivators to keep competing. Silva also fails to hide his satisfaction when other fighters praise him.
“I started following Wanderlei when I started following PRIDE so I know he’s had one of the longest win streaks in MMA,” Le said. “It’s an honor to fight someone like Wanderlei for my UFC debut.”
Silva took the fight against Le after an injury to Vitor Belfort left a void in the UFC 139 co-main event. Silva hadn’t seen Le fight before then, but was immediately impressed with the former undefeated kickboxer and professional actor.
“He has a unique style,” Silva said. “Nobody kicks like him in MMA. He’s a good fighter and hopefully we’ll put on a good show.”
There’s pronounced danger in putting “on a good show” for Silva, though. If Silva gets into one of his trademark all-out brawls, the striker could tag him and send him closer to never appearing in the UFC again.
It’s a real possibility, but not one Silva is ready to handle.
“I don’t want to retire, and I know if I perform like I do in the gym, I will make everyone happy,” Silva said. “What happened in my last fight can happen to anyone in MMA.”