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If Anderson Silva’s legacy as arguably the most superb technician of mixed martial arts in history has taught anything, it’s to never assume the outcome of his fights.
Chael Sonnen believed he’d ended Silva’s extended UFC middleweight title reign until Silva contorted him in the final seconds and forced him to submit. Who could ever forget that Silva kick to Vitor Belfort’s face? Even in those stunning title losses to Chris Weidman, Silva kept everyone guessing.
So now that he heads to Melbourne, Australia, for Saturday night’s UFC 234 co-main event against New Zealand’s unbeaten elite prospect Israel Adesanya (15-0), the assumption is that Silva (34-8) is being sent there to pass his torch.
Adesanya has thoroughly impressed, not only with his kickboxing and overall skill, but with an analytical mind.
“I believe this is a special moment for me,” Silva, 43, said, knowing a win can lead him to meet the winner of Saturday’s middleweight title main event of champion Robert Whittaker against Kelvin Gastelum.
“I hear everyone saying Israel is my clone … you know, I already have three versions of myself — my sons Gabriel, Kalyl and Joao. Those are the best versions of me. Israel is a great fighter. He’s young and has a big future inside this sport. … But my path is a different one. I know some things, and I have a long past that I will call upon.”
Silva spoke the words recently at a workout observed by reporters at his new gym in West Hollywood. He stamped his confident words by battering bags held by his trainers with thunderous kicks and punches, with a poster of Muhammad Ali looming in the background.
The facility, equipped with Silva’s own brands of fighter apparel and supplements, represents the ongoing transition the former champion is making with an eye toward his next career.
A business partner explained that the Brazilian intends to select and “curate” young fighters. He’ll develop them with lessons from his distinguished career and high-tech training equipment.
He spoke of reminding the youngsters of what his former master taught him, emphasizing that martial arts is a way to a fuller life first, not something to obsess over as a route to financial riches.
Silva admits he fell into the latter trap during his career, explaining that unforgettably breaking his leg by kicking Weidman’s in their rematch, and then testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in his return fight against Nick Diaz, were the hard reminders he needed of what his sport is supposed to be about.
He has found greater contentment in his legacy. With five children now, the youngest of whom is 14, he was the most engaging version of Anderson Silva I’ve interviewed yet, asking with genuine care about family and life and responding with sincerity to questions, some of which were tinged in a tone of, “Is this it for you?”
He said he’s truly come to grasp his master’s lessons: “You have money and power, but you have more than that now. You have a responsibility to help people.”
“The moment those words reached me, I said to myself, ‘Wow, I need to get back to the giving and doing something to change people’s lives –- not just my own. That’s the way to change everything,’ ” Silva said.
“That’s why I feel so very happy that God has given me one more opportunity to fight, especially in this moment of my life.”
In recent weeks, Silva has watched Manny Pacquiao, at 40, retain his welterweight boxing belt against a 29-year-old (Adesanya’s age) and he knows Tom Brady, 41, just won his sixth Super Bowl.
“It’s about how healthy you feel inside your mind and inside your heart,” Silva said. “If you love your sport, just keep doing it. You’ll find it makes everything in your life better.”
Respect, not revenge
It’s human nature for famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach to want victory more than usual Sunday as he sends his 140-pound title challenger Jose Zepeda (30-1, 25 knockouts) of La Puente to Fresno on Sunday seeking the World Boxing Council belt of junior-welterweight champion Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs) effectively fired Roach last summer.
Roach, in training Zepeda at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, has urged his fighter to rely on a cerebral approach and seek to out-box Ramirez, now aligned with Riverside-based Robert Garcia. Can Zepeda win? Roach smiled mischievously, answering, “Yes.”
But Ramirez, 26, who’ll be supported on the 4 p.m. ESPN-televised card by a hometown crowd at Fresno’s Save-Mart Arena, said he’s not harboring feelings of pouring salt in Roach’s wound.
“I know what Freddie Roach can do and I know Jose Zepeda will come prepared and [Roach] is going to push him to make a statement,” Ramirez said. “I’m appreciative to have this attention and to be living a dream, giving blessings to my family.
“I respect Freddie for training me the years he did and showing me what he showed me. I respect any guy who dedicates time to teaching boxing. I would never have a grudge, because if there wasn’t a Freddie Roach, there wouldn’t be so many great champions out there.”
Roach helped direct record eight-division champion Pacquiao to a convincing Jan. 19 triumph over Adrien Broner. He also was assistant trainer to former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in his Dec. 1 draw against Deontay Wilder. And he’ll lead his super-featherweight champion Alberto Machado to a Saturday title defense against Andrew Cancio at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio.
“Meeting like this is part of the sport. It happens in other sports, too. But fans can misunderstand fighters, sometimes — they forget we risk our lives to entertain them and to care for our families and pursue a better future,” Ramirez said. “We know from growing up about the lack of respect we receive, but, between each other, we shouldn’t show that lack of respect. We understand each other, the sacrifices we make.
“So I’m looking forward to fighting a great fighter who has Freddie Roach behind him because I know it’ll be a great fight for the fans.”
In a strong division, Ramirez is hoping to defeat Zepeda and head toward a unification against Maurice Hooker while awaiting what happens in the World Boxing Super Series’ 140-pound tournament, which saw semifinalist Ivan Baranchyk withdraw over a missed purse payment last week.
Sunday co-main event fighter Ray Beltran, a former lightweight champion, could also be in play.
Ramirez is delivering part of ticket donations to a cancer treatment center in nearby Clovis, Calif.
Return to ring
New WBC light-heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KOs) will make his first title defense March 30 in Philadelphia against Doudou Ngumbu (38-8, 14 KOs), sources connected to the bout told the Fight Corner over the weekend.
Gvozdyk’s celebration over winning his belt Dec. 1 by 11th-round technical knockout over Adonis Stevenson was muted by the fact that longtime champion Stevenson fell into a coma afterward.
Stevenson’s girlfriend recently reported in an email to news outlets that the former champion has begun to walk and verbally communicate, reporting, “We are confident our ‘Superman’ will make a full recovery.”
Obviously hurt by Stevenson’s condition, Gvozdyk “is doing better now. He’s strong minded,” said the fighter’s Oxnard-based manager Egis Klimas.
Until next time