HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- This isn't the first time Wanderlei Silva knows pain in a cage. Judging by his discomfort, even an "Axe Murderer" doesn't get used to this sort of thing. That's how little he thinks of the burning sting that accompanies stretching. Shortly after an intense training session at Kings MMA in early June, the former Pride champion's right knee is pulled, pushed and stretched. Surgery to repair a torn ACL is a distant memory, but he hasn't fought on the repaired joint yet and in this business you never know.
A fight with Chris Leben in Las Vegas, Silva's adopted hometown, is fast approaching:
Gross: What do you think of Leben?
Silva: July 2nd. It's a really good fight for the fans. After I saw his fight with [Yoshihiro] Akiyama, his style was like my style. He's one exciting fighter. He's a warrior and has good heart. He doesn't give a step back. In that fight, it's good to look at who's going to be the first to step back.
Gross: What happened when he fought Brian Stann?
Silva: Brian Stann has heavy hands. Anyone that receive that punch can be knocked out.
Gross: It must be nice to work with Master [Rafael] Cordeiro again.
Silva: Finally man. I'm an old style student. I need a master. I can't have just a coach. I need a master.
Gross: What's the difference?
Silva:The difference ... the guy knows all about me. He knows my movements. He looks at you training and he knows. "You need to do that. You move that leg here. ... " He knows all. We started working in the gym sparring and he said do this, do this, do this. It's a different connection.
Gross: Because of your history?
Silva: No, not the history. The connection. Of course, his level of technique. He knows what I need to do. He gives good directions. Last time I trained the wrong things.
Gross: Is it like traveling back in time? Like being in Curitiba again?
Silva:Exactly. This gym is looking exactly the same as it does in Brazil. But in Brazil we just had one bag. Here we have five. Now he made it happen again. He's making the same training with 15-20 really good guys.
Gross: It's a very intense training style.
Silva:Yeah, it's unbelievable to be back here. I train with [Fabricio] Werdum, Babalu, Shogun, [Mark] Munoz.
Gross: What's it like training with Shogun again?
Silva:Really good. He has great energy and his technique is unbelievable. For him it's all about focus. He has the potential to be champion again.
Gross: What about your career at this point. What are you hoping to accomplish?
Silva:I want to be champion. (Bellowing laughter.) No, for me just being back fighting right now is an unbelievable thing. I'm back to training with 100 percent with good guys. I have my cardio back. My technique is back. For me I feel like this is my first fight. I feel I debuted again because it's a year and a half I don't fight. (Big, pain-inspired groan as Silva's right leg is stretched.)
Gross: How do you like being in UFC compared to Pride?
Silva:That was another time. The Fertittas (owners Frank and Lorenzo) and Dana White put this sport on another level. You fight in UFC today is totally different than fighting in UFC 10 years ago, or fighting in Japan. Totally different.
Gross: Better? Worse? The Pride period is romanticized by many people. Can you describe what it was like?
Silva:I watch the fights today, Shyna Aoki and JZ Calvacante in Dream. I saw a lot of chairs around the ring. I remember there used to be a million chairs around the ring and the roar. It's a different energy and different style. In America man it's crazy. The fans are crazy. (He mimics crazy fans, finishing each impression with a roar.) I'm one fighter inside the gym and I'm another fighter in the lights. I love the lights. The fans give me incredible energy. I was asked by a guy, "You are so nice, who are you so aggressive in the fight?" Man, I'm in the ring. The other guy looks at me, comes and punches me in the face. I want to kill him! Of course. I'll be very mad!
Gross: So Leben should be a very good fight for you.
Silva:Very good fight. He's the kind of fighter I like to watch. You have a lot of kind of fighters. You have fighters that are safe. Some open their game. My real boss is my fans. My fans put me there. If my fans don't want me, Dana [White] won't put me there. The boss is the fans. And the fans like to watch me, I'll have a job forever. I'm not afraid to lose. No, I like to go in there and do what I want to do. For me, I like the show. Of course I fight to win, but I like the show. If I make my fans happy, I'm happy.
Gross: Did you always have this attitude, or is it changed since your career took a different path?
Silva:For all time I had that attitude. At Pride 8, my second Pride, Mark Kerr, he's the legend at the time, is walking through the hotel. All these guys followed him with cameras. I'm nothing. I'm a young fighter. I think man, after the fights everyone is going to know who I am. They will remember. After my fight with Matsui, everyone says "This kid is good!" I think I was 24 years old. Every time I fought, I wanted the fans to remember my name.
Gross: Do you have a favorite fight?
Silva:A lot. With Sakuraba. With Jckson. With Cro Cop. With Hunt. With Liddell. With Henderson.
Gross: And you think you'll have fights to remember in the future?
Silva:I'll have good highlights.
Gross: What do you think about the UFC 134 card in Brazil?
Silva:Great card. Shogun and Anderson. I haven't watched too many fights of Okami. Do you think he has a chance with Silva?
Gross:Okami is big, strong. I saw them fight in Hawaii. Anderson was disqualified very early in the fight. He was on his back, Okami was in his guard with his knees on the ground, and Anderson upckicked and knocked him out.
Gross:This was in the first two or three minutes. But in those three minutes it was clear Anderson was a much better fighter. Okami has improved, but for him to win he has to make it a boring fight and tie up a lot. Anderson's too good. Would you ever fight Anderson?
Silva:Today, no. But they have just one belt in the UFC. I'm too far from the belt right now. I need to fight with a few guys first.
Gross: How do you like middleweight?
Silva: Good. I felt good in my last fight. I debuted against [Michael] Bisping. He's top-5 in the world. (Groan from stretching). He's dangerous, really good.
Gross: How are you feeling? You keep making noises here.
Silva: Stretching is like torture.
Gross: Much worse than getting hit in the face.
Silva: Yeah, yeah, yeah.