Anderson Silva eager to take on big-name opponents from every weight class

Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight champion Anderson Silva has a new, big contract and big, new plans.

On the back burner now is his previous plan to try professional boxing, replaced by an ambition to entrench his reputation as the world’s top mixed martial arts fighter with a willingness to fight the best opponents possible — from welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre to heavyweight king Brock Lesnar.

“I want to go out there and keep putting on great performances,” Silva said through Ed Soares, his manager and interpreter. “I want to fight the best. That could be a middleweight, welterweight, light-heavyweight or heavyweight.”

Since Silva (25-4) has effectively cleaned out the UFC’s middleweight division — he has won 10 consecutive UFC fights and has held the middleweight belt since October 2006 — he aspires to spend his eight-fight contract pursuing challenges beyond a routine title defense such as Saturday’s fight against Demian Maia at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The pay-per-view card, which will be held at a 12,000-seat outdoor venue in the homeland of the UFC’s new 10% business partner, also includes a lightweight title defense by champion B.J. Penn against Frankie Edgar.

Silva’s eight-fight deal trumps the standard six-fight contract that UFC strikes with its fighters, and Soares said the contract talks revealed what UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta said is the “definitely possible” plan to have Silva take on a slew of challenges outside his regular weight class.

“Anderson won’t call out people, but he wants to take on the best. The UFC is in the business of selling fights. These will be the last eight fights of Anderson’s career,” Soares said.

The intrigue of Silva’s fight Saturday against Maia (12-1), a submission specialist and fellow Brazilian, is how Silva will fare after an eight-month layoff that included surgery on his right elbow.

“This is the best I’ve felt,” Silva said recently.

Silva was to fight MMA veteran Vitor Belfort on Saturday, but Belfort backed out because of an injury. The change in opponents “doesn’t make a difference,” Silva said. “I train the same.”

Fertitta said in a text message to The Times that he might have Silva fight one more middleweight, Chael Sonnen, after Maia.

And then?

“He has tons of options available,” Fertitta texted. “He just wants super-fights.”