SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Wanderlei Silva earned a reprieve at UFC 139.
Facing the possible end of his legendary career after six losses in his last eight fights, Silva bought himself some time on Saturday night when he stopped Cung Le via second-round TKO after an exciting, back-and-forth battle in the evening’s co-main event.
Especially on the heels of his disastrous 27-second loss to Chris Leben at UFC 132, this was one “The Axe Murderer” absolutely had to win. He did, weathering nearly 10 minutes of Le’s unorthodox striking before turning the tide with a knee and a straight right, then following with hammerfists to force a stoppage just 11 seconds before the end of the round.
“It’s wonderful. ... I know in this job you have to kill one lion each day,” Silva said at the postfight news conference. "Thank you so much [to the UFC] for this opportunity.”
In the days leading up to this show, Dana White had let it be known that he and Silva would “have to have a talk” if he didn’t look at least passable against Le. Now that talk -- the one no fighter wants to have -- is delayed, and Silva’s career will live to fight another day.
“He looked awesome tonight,” White said. “I’m happy for him, believe me, I’m happy to have him here. He’s a guy who we respect and who we really care about and it was good to see him win.”
The UFC president was impressed enough to double up on the evening’s "Fight of the Night" bonuses, awarding $70,000 to Silva and Le in addition to the cash he gave Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua for their epic main event.
At the start, things did not look like they would end so well for Silva. Le caught him at range a few times during the first round, brutalizing Silva with kicks to the body and head, even dropping him to the canvas at one point with a spinning backfist.
Silva took it all and continued to wade in with his trademark headhunting punches. The end began with a flurry that hurt Le enough to force him into an ineffective takedown attempt against the cage. Silva defended the takedown, then landed a series of knees and an elbow before the strikes that put Le down for the final time.
“I studied his game a lot," Silva said. "My coaches and I had a good game plan for this fight and, thanks to God, we won it the right way.”
There are no doubt valid questions that could still be asked about Silva pressing on with his legendary career. For better or for worse, those questions will now wait for another day.
Instead, the retirement questions may now shift to Le. The American Kickboxing Academy fighter has competed only sparingly in MMA during the past few years, balancing a fighting career with accepting movie roles at home and abroad. At 39 years old, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion was making his UFC debut in front of a hometown crowd that chanted alternately for him and for Silva during the fight.
When it was over, Le was led from the cage with an obviously broken nose while Silva left with renewed life. At least for now.
“I know the responsibility of fighting here,” Silva said. “There is space just for the best guys in the world here.”