Anderson Silva looks to make a point against Thales Leites at UFC 97
All sunshine and light in training Wednesday, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva had his game face on Thursday.
MONTREAL - All sunshine and light in training Wednesday, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva had his game face on Thursday. And judging by his grumpy, bored expression, the forecast is grim for opponent Thales Leites at UFC 97 on Saturday at the Bell Centre.
The 34-year-old Silva, widely seen as the best pound-for-pound mixed martial arts fighter on the planet, looks ready to step in the cage and hurt someone. It's Leites' turn.
With several fighters looking to bounce back from unimpressive showings or bidding to prove they belong in the Octagon, UFC 97 (available on pay per view) is titled Redemption. It's a storyline Silva clearly believes does not apply to him, even though he has faced plenty of questions this week about his last fight.
Silva (23-4) is tired of being asked about UFC 90, but he keeps hearing it.
"The first time he's ever looked human was in his last fight against Patrick Cote and he's not too happy about looking human," UFC president Dana White told the pre-fight news conference Thursday.
To his right, Silva's eyes smouldered. Manager Ed Soares leaned over to translate and was waved off. Evidently Silva's grasp of the English language is growing.
Silva was never in trouble against Cote but delivered a stop-start showing that ended abruptly early in the third round when the Canadian's knee gave out. The champ came in for criticism that he was more worried about style than substance and that he was toying with a lesser fighter.
Each time the Brazilian has been asked this week about trying to put the Cote fight behind him, his answer has been a little nastier.
On Wednesday, through Soares, it was: "I don't care if people forget about the Patrick Cote fight. Patrick Cote got beat up for 2 1/2 rounds."
On Thursday, when the issue of a rematch was raised, he answered: "I think that's a question you should ask Cote, if he really does want to fight me again."
Silva delivered the line in Portuguese with a truly venomous look.
While redemption may not be Silva's motivation, everything points to him looking to make a point at the expense of Leites. He will look to punish his opponent until he breaks. This week's subtext has all been about performance.
He can make history along the way. A win Saturday and Silva will break Royce Gracie and Jon Fitch's record of eight straight UFC wins, while tying another mark with his fifth successful title defence.
Silva downplays the records.
"To me it doesn't mean that much as far as the records. What's important to me is to step into the Octagon and give the public and the world a great performance. And to keep my team proud of me and keep the victories coming."
Standing in his way of win No. 24 is Leites, a talented jiu-jitsu black belt who is a 6-1 underdog - "I'm 5-1," corrected Leites, who is right on some bookie sites, wrong on others.
"Thales Leites is a tough guy," White said. "He's cracked off a lot of wins in the UFC now and he's got himself a title shot. The real question is going to be which Anderson Silva is going to show up - the monster that's been destroying everybody for over two years now in the UFC or the guy we saw fight Cote."
Odds aside, Leites's ground skills are respected by his fellow fighters.
"He's got a huge advantage on the ground against Silva," said fellow middleweight Nate Marquardt, who lost to both fighters.
"He has a tight ground game, good jiu-jitsu," added middleweight Demian Maia, who fought Leites at the BJJ World Cup. "So he's definitely a guy who can complicate Silva's life."
"He (Silva) has shown he can survive on the ground," offered former WEC welterweight champion Carlos Condit, who has trained with Leites. "But Thales Leites is just a very, very talented and technical ground guy. I think if he takes Anderson down, Anderson might be in some trouble."
In his eight UFC wins, Silva has fought black belts in Travis Lutter and Marquardt. Lutter took him down and had him in the mount position, only to be submitted himself.
Silva is also one of only three men to have submitted Dan Henderson. The other two were the Nogueira brothers, under whom Silva earned his black belt.
So Silva has grappling skills of his own and has been preparing for Leites with jiu-jitsu aces Ronaldo (Jacare) Souza and Andre Galvao.
"I thought that Thales Leites' only hope in the fight would be to maybe pull off a submission and when I hear things like that, that Anderson has people of that calibre in his camp, helping him prepare and they can't submit him, then I really have a hard time believing Thales Leites is going to bring anything to the table that he hasn't been well prepared for," said Canadian middleweight Jason MacDonald.
"Leites is definitely a skilled opponent. Anything can happen," offered middleweight Ed Herman. "So if it does get to the ground, he's going get a chance but he's got to get a hold of him first. Anderson's a hard guy to get your hands on."
Leites (14-1) proved his grit against Marquardt when he survived an illegal knee to the head. The knee sent the Brazilian to la-la land but he somehow kept fighting and, helped by two points deducted from Marquardt, won a decision.
"I was totally out. I didn't know what happened," he said.
But in addition to a black belt, Silva brings precision striking to the table with fists, elbows, knees and feet. At 6-2, he is a menacing standup fighter.
Leites, 27, is outgunned on his feet. Plus he has to deal with the pressure of fighting a five-round championship bout in the main event. That's old hat for Silva.
"He's been on top for so long now, he's used to the pressure of a title fight," said middleweight Denis Kang.
Whatever people thought about Silva's performance against Cote, Soares says his fighter is bringing his A game Saturday night.
"I think you're going to see a world-class performance that everyone expects to see from Anderson," he said.
If so, that could mean a short, painful evening for Leites.