Defamation case against Wanderlei Silva to move forward

A Nevada judge denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit involving UFC parent company Zuffa and former fighter Wanderlei Silva. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- A civil defamation suit filed by Zuffa, parent company of the UFC, against veteran mixed martial artist Wanderlei Silva will move forward following a Nevada district judge's denial in part of a motion to dismiss the case Wednesday.

Zuffa filed the suit July 28, alleging Silva, 39, defamed the company with two posts on social media in which he accused the promotion of "fight fixing." The lawsuit seeks punitive damages.

In an effort to have the case thrown out, Silva, represented by attorney Terry A. Coffing, argued his freedom of speech should be protected by Nevada's Anti-SLAPP laws, which protects people after speaking out on public issues.

Silva has been publicly critical of the UFC's business practices within the last year. During deliberations, Coffing claimed Zuffa's primary goal in filing the civil suit was to "shut Silva up."

Additionally, the motion to dismiss argued against the validity of Zuffa's defamation allegations, based on its classification as an entity as opposed to an individual.

Judge Joanna S. Kishner denied the Anti-SLAPP motion, based on her ruling that Silva's statements on fight fixing were not directly connected to public matters including an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit against Zuffa and his appeal of sanctions placed on him by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Wednesday's ruling kept the bulk of Zuffa's suit intact, although Judge Kishner did grant a motion to dismiss part of the complaint related to monetary damages alleged by Zuffa.

"I'm glad we have a judicial officer with First Amendment experience," said Zuffa's attorney Donald J. Campbell. "This law can be convoluted and we're happy the court arrived at what was clearly the right result. We look forward to delving into Mr. Silva's statements further."

In July, Silva posted comments to Facebook, written in Portuguese, stating he could "prove" the UFC had engaged in the illegal act of fight fixing. "I haven't told everything I know," Silva wrote.

On Wednesday, Coffing argued the fighter's comments were made in good faith. He said there is no definitive definition of "fight fixing," which means the phrase could include matters like asking an injured athlete to compete or ignoring drug test results. The court ultimately rejected that notion, stating it would take the "plain English" definition of the term.

Silva (35-12-1) hasn't fought since May 2013. He announced his retirement from MMA in a video blog in September 2014, four months after he fled from a random drug test in Nevada. The NSAC originally banned Silva from competition in the state of Nevada for life, but that ruling was reversed in district court in May. He is expected to reappear before the NSAC for a second disciplinary hearing.

The Brazilian fighter was not in attendance during Wednesday's court hearing, but Coffing hinted at his potential return to competition at some point.

"While he may be retired from the UFC, to the best of my knowledge he is not retired from any other organization he might someday wish to compete in," Coffing said.