Article By Dave Walsh
When I think about the glory days of PRIDE FC in Japan, there are a few names that are synonymous with the movement, but none stick out to me quite as much as Wanderlei Silva does. Wanderlei Silva wasn’t the first star to be created within PRIDE, he wasn’t the last star to be created in PRIDE and he wasn’t the most successful star to top it off. PRIDE was a Japanese promotion and as such was always looking to promote Japanese stars over everything else. That trend started with the first event, which featured Japanese professional wrestling superstar Nobuhiko Takada squaring off against Rickson Gracie with the pride of Japan (get the name?) on the line after his disciple, Yoji Anjoh, made a fool out of the UWF gym by going to Brazil to challenge Rickson and to become a mockery after being soundly defeated.
Rickson Gracie vs Nobuhiko Takada
Takada could never really carry that torch for Japan and become the big star in legitimate fights that fans wanted from him, but another professional wrestler with close ties to Takada did come along and do just that; Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba was a bit of a freak with his grappling that could nullify as well as be successful against the legendary Gracie Jiu-Jitsu from Brazil. He quickly became known as the Gracie Hunter in Japan and is credited with PRIDE’s big boom and sustaining the popularity that it had for years. Sakuraba quickly became a legend and the epitome of a Japanese hero, that is until PRIDE 13 where he ran into a Brazil Muay Thai wrecking machine by the name of Wanderlei Silva.
Wanderlei had cut his teeth in Brazil against some of the very top competition that they had to offer before he found himself fighting in the UFC and PRIDE. He was still young and a bit inexperienced, with his style not fully developed yet, but that soon changed. His real coming out party was not his KO win over Guy Mezger or decision victory over Dan Henderson, but the way that he demolished Japan’s favorite hero of Kazushi Sakuraba in just one minute and thirty eight seconds with brutal knees and soccer kicks. Wanderlei Silva in 2001 was pure, brutal violence and aggression in living, breathing form. Sakuraba would attempt to fight Silva two more times with the second time seeing the doctor call the fight due to concern for his safety followed by another brutal beating in the third fight.
Wanderlei Silva had a lot of other brutal stoppages that he accumulated in PRIDE, like the dramatic finish of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson that left him dangling from the ropes a bloody mess, but what caught the attention of Japanese fans was how he dispatched of a living legend like Kazushi Sakuraba three times like that. There started to be a whole mythos developing around Wanderlei Silva as unstoppable, with fans in America calling for a fight between the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Chuck Liddell and Japan’s Axe Murderer, with that fight not coming together until both fighters were past their primes under the UFC banner years later.
Wanderlei Silva vs Rampage Jackson Pride
What happened with Wanderlei Silva is that the nation of Japan essentially adopted him as one of their heroes. While we’d like to fondly look back at fighters like Fedor Emelianenko and say that they did the same for him, they might have, but not anywhere near the level that they did with Silva. Silva was a bonafide star in Japan with that “Mike Tyson” aura that we fight fans like to talk about. Silva felt dangerous, it felt like putting him into the ring with a fighter was unfair and unnatural, like putting a mortal in the ring with a god. His run at the top involved defeating Sakuraba, Henderson, Jackson, Minowa, Kondo, Yoshida, Kanehara, Iwasaki, Tamura and more. It was a list of who’s who in PRIDE at the time and spanned five glorious years before Mark Hunt took a decision victory over Silva in a Heavyweight bout.
This weekend Wanderlei Silva returns to his fighting home of Japan, the place where he made his name and where he became a legend. Silva has not fought in Japan since 2006 now, making his homecoming an even bigger deal, especially against someone characterized as the “All-American” in Brian Stann. Stann was a standout from the WEC who is best known for being a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps as well as his battles with Doug Marshall and Steve Cantwell. Stann is looking to get his career back on track, but has a tough battle ahead of him in enemy territory against one of Japan’s adopted sons.
For fans of Wanderlei Silva it has to feel like one last chance at redemption for the Axe Murderer, whose career has been on a downward spiral of late with many questioning his legacy and the validity of it. While it is uncertain if Wanderlei will continue to fight after this one, it would be quite a spectacle for Wanderlei to pick up a win over Stann and retire in his fighting home of Japan, if not downright poetic.