If leaving the relatively balmy confines of Las Vegas for the sub-zero temperatures of Toronto in December doesn’t say fan appreciation, I don’t know what does. In 2011, I caught up with Brazilian legend and UFC middleweight contender Wanderlei Silva for an exclusive Jits Magazine interview as he signed autographs and took pictures with adoring fans at Popeye’s Supplements in Richmond Hill, Ontario. At the time, he was very excited and hopeful about the possibility of fighting at UFC 129 in Toronto.
“I really want to fight here. I am just focusing now on recuperating from my knee injury and I have just started training again...it’s feeling better and better. I have 4 months between now and April so I think it’s a perfect time to come back. I have more fun in Toronto than in any other place in the world. Every time I come here I meet a lt of pasionate fans who always show me such great support. I know I will have that support with me if I fight here and I really want to make it happen."
‘The Axe Murderer’ has been on the mend since sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament and broken ribs last June while preparing for a fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama. The BJJ black belt, more famous for providing fireworks with his fists and knees, has been patiently recovering and looks to return in the spring.
Having honed his skills for years at the famed Chute Boxe Academy in his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, Silva made the move to Las Vegas with his wife Tea and son Thor in 2007 and opened up the Wand Training Center, which was recently awarded the title of Gym of the Year at the 2010 MMA Awards.
“It feels great," beams the former UVC and Pride Fighting champion. "I opened my gym three years ago and nowit's one of the best in the world. We try our best to get the top instructors and the best equipment and I use it to prepare for all of my fights. I have a full-sized octagon, the best mats...all of the thngs you need to train for competition are there."
While recovering from injuries can be a frustrating reality for Silva, he has taken great pride in seeing the accomplishments of many of the students at his gym.
“Right now the team at my gym is growing fast, and my students recently won 12 medals in a BJJ tournament in Vegas. That's because of guys like Vitor Vianna who is a black belt world champion and is one of the main guys I train with now," says Silva, who still sees himself as a student of BJJ despite having already achieved black belt status under Carlson Gracie Jr. in 2003. "I'm always learning from from some of the best guys out there like Renato 'Babalu' Sobral, Demien Maia too. When Demien comes in from Brazil he visits my gym and gives me great pointers on how to improve specific positions. That also helps my game grow even more, and I think my next opponents will also have to eatch out for my jiu-jitsu..." he says with a smile.
At 34 years of age, Silva believes that staying sharp mentally is critical to maximizing his potential at this stage in his career, and he concludes that training BJJ with a gi will help him achieve that.
“I train both with gi and no-gi, but I'm going to focus on training with gi as soon as I can because it's really, really important to train with it to get more speed in the positions, and it keeps your mind working fast," says Silva. "Right now I am only lifting weights and boxing. I'm going to start BJJ next month. The knee is feeling close to normal so I think I'm on the right track."
Although his track record shows a penchant for the knockout over the submission, he feels BJJ has benefited him both inside and outside the octagon.
“I love BJJ, it trains my mind. When I face my opponent I am much sharper mentally and more connected with his movements and reactions. It's very hard for guys to understand that when they are just starting to train, but once they start to perform the techniques and see how the positions work, they get it. They understand what it gives them not just physically, but also mentally which is most important. You can never stop learning in BJJ, which is why I love it.”
Words by David Abbou
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