Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 | 5:50 p.m.
The sight of Anderson Silva’s left leg suffering a vicious break at the conclusion of UFC 168 on Saturday night caused most viewers to squirm, gasp or cover their eyes.
Dr. Steven Sanders, the UFC’s longtime orthopedic surgeon, had a different reaction while sitting cageside at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“The minute it occurred, I’m sitting there going, ‘That’s fixable,'” Sanders said on a conference call Monday afternoon.
Sanders, who has practiced medicine in Las Vegas since 1991, got the chance to demonstrate his belief. He performed surgery on Silva’s fractured tibia, deciding to let the corresponding fractured fibula heal naturally, at the University Medical Center trauma unit immediately after the fight.
Silva remains holed up at the hospital, confined to bed rest, elevating his leg and taking pain medication, two days after the procedure.
“He has asked me every time when I see him on my rounds, ‘Will I be able to train again? When can I train?’” Sanders said. “I’ve indicated to him that he should be able to train.”
It’s going to be a while, however, before the 38-year-old UFC legend who lost to Chris Weidman via second-round injury TKO can entertain the notion of fighting again. Sanders cautioned that all patients were different but said the best-case scenario was Silva could attempt to return to training in six to nine months.
It’s going to take three to six months alone to heal the fracture after Sanders inserted an 11.5-millimeter titanium rod into Silva’s leg. Sanders doesn’t anticipate Silva being able to put any weight on his leg for at least the next couple weeks.
Silva likely has several more days in the hospital ahead of him, too, even though he’s shown progress encouraging to Sanders.
“I have seen him up on crutches, and it’s amazing because I don’t know if I would be able to do it that quickly,” Sanders said.
Sanders described the injury as “fairly severe” but emphasized that it could have been worse. Silva’s skin held together to prevent the bone from protruding out, where it would have been prone to infection. The bone also didn’t twist in a manner that threatened arteries, which could have cut off blood supply to the foot and risked amputation.
That being said, the soft tissue in the region endured significant damage and resulted in the type of pain that had the former champion screaming on his way out of the arena.
“Post-operatively, within 48 hours, he’s behaving as anyone who’s just broken both of their bones violently,” Sanders said when asked of Silva’s mental state.
Aside from Silva’s family and inner circle, the doctor is perhaps the only person with that kind of insight. Silva sent out a tweet thanking his fans for their “support and caring messages" Monday but has stayed publicly silent otherwise.
The UFC issued a statement requesting privacy for its greatest-ever fighter, an appeal the promotion’s brass appears to be abiding by themselves.
“I know other members of our team have been at the hospital making sure that everything is moving in the right direction from a nonmedical standpoint, making sure everything he and his family needs is taken care of,” said Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s chief operating officer. “The most important thing is Anderson make a speedy and complete recovery.”
A natural assumption after UFC 168 was that Silva’s fighting days had ended, but Sanders made it sound otherwise. Age will not be a factor in Silva’s recovery, according to Sanders.
If Silva wants to come back — and his constant line of questioning hints a desire — Sanders believes he’ll have the opportunity.
“When the fracture heals, the bone will re-assume and achieve its original strength,” Sanders said.