After Thiago Silva's last fight, against Rashad Evans at UFC 108 back in January of 2010, the crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena wondered what happened to Silva when he rocked the former champion and didn't follow up to finish the fight by strikes.
Plus, during the fight, Silva, an American Top Team member, was the victim of a wrestling clinic as he was unable to defend the takedowns of the TUF 2 winner.
The answers came later, as a serious back injury drained the Brazilian’s capacity to sprawl and to use his strength to attack aggressively during his last contest a year ago.
Silva was scheduled to return to action in August against 'The Barbarian', Tim Boetsch, at UFC 117, but while a few believed his back injury was only an excuse, Silva was really forced to step back and sit on the sidelines for a greater length of time.
Now, five months after the last news on Silva and 364 days without fighting, he makes his comeback at UFC 125 this Saturday against Brandon 'The Truth' Vera. The back injury is healed, but it’s still relevant for those who didn't know that the Sao Paulo native lived in hell during the months he flew under the radar.
"I fought (against Evans) injured and with limited moves, mainly on the ground,” he said. “Four damn months because things got worse to a point where I couldn't walk.”
And the time off faced by Silva wasn't just an attack on his professional fighting activities. Simple everyday tasks took more from him than Lyoto Machida and Evans, the only two men to defeat him. The problem reached the point where he wanted to turn nightmares into dreams, literally.
"Getting back to training wasn't the tough part. But I got to a point where I dreamed of waking up without pain, taking my car and driving my car to ATT, to do what I was born to do," he said. "The preparation for my next fight was complicated because I needed to re-learn how to train, conditioning my muscles while taking it easy. I even resisted engaging in sparring sessions on Tuesdays (laughs). It was 12 weeks until normal sessions."
With his mind jumping in several directions, the word ‘retirement’ was inevitable as Silva depended solely on his wife Thaysa for 14 days when the pain was unbearable and 24 hours a day he had to be assisted in order to sleep, wake up, have a shower and eat.
"I cried due to the pain, and my poor wife, she is indispensable," Silva said. "I asked myself on a lot of occasions, 'What if I don't fight anymore?' during the worst part of the recovering. I don't wish this kind of pain for anyone."
But even through without the injury that harmed his performance against Rashad and sidelined him for UFC 117, Silva knows that from his last to his next match a few holes in his game needed to be covered. Comparing Vera to Rashad can focus Silva on another type of training of course, but his ability to defend takedowns needs to be sharpened for a new year, and a new Silva.
"I knew I need more wrestling, as heart alone doesn't beat foes," Silva says. "Once you have a problem and insist on fighting, sooner or later you'll be unable to give your best. Close to the end of the fight against Rashad I didn't have the power, so that that after the knockdown my arms didn't respond to my commands, something that can't happen against Vera. After 364 days of a layoff I'm hungry for a fight, ready to honor each second outside the Octagon and with much more will to prove that I'm genuinely a new fighter."
Vera is coming from two consecutive defeats, Silva lost his last - so the pressure to a return in great fashion is on the kicks, punches and submission attempts of both fighters. The 28-year old from Brazil isn’t certain that he will be using the idea of having his back against the wall like a weapon, but his wish is to make 2011 a year to increase his victories to 15, and make it Thiago Silva's year.
"I don't count on the pressure to beat him, a fight is a fight," he said. "I want God to keeping blessing me after this turmoil, because I'm looking to accomplish my dreams. I'm ready, focused and expecting a great victory for a new year that I want to be mine."
The Resurrection of Thiago Silva
"After 364 days of a layoff I'm hungry for a fight, ready to honor each second outside the Octagon and with much more will to prove that I'm genuinely a new fighter."