The Rebirth of Anderson Silva

“I’m very happy that there’s a lot of people out there rooting for my return. I’m going to try and come back and learn from my mistakes. There are a lot of them. Not only technical, but personality mistakes that I’m changing. I’m growing every day in that way. I’ve lost a lot  because of my personality — and I’m learning to deal with that and understand a lot of things need to change.” –Anderson Silva

Anderson Silva was described by many reporters as jovial at the UFC press conference in Rio Tuesday.

But that’s not what struck me about “The Spider” that day.

We’re accustomed to seeing the longtime middleweight champion dance and joke around — both in and out of the Octagon. Sometimes it’s even overshadowed his martial arts acumen.

We might not be so accustomed to introspection, and humility.

Silva said that Tuesday’s event will mark his only visit with media prior to his return to action at UFC 183 in January, following his horrific leg injury which put him out of action for the entire year.

He made it count.

“I thought my career was over,” Silva admitted, recalling the injury. “You might think depression isn’t that big a thing, but I was depressed, very sad; and if I didn’t have the people by my side here, maybe I wouldn’t have come back.”

Among the people who were by his side at the press conference was a new addition to his team: Ricardo de la Riva.

De la Riva’s presence was significant — not just because he’s a legend in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, although, sadly, not as well known in MMA circles.

While we in the US were learning about jiu-jitsu through the Gracie family’s involvement in the UFC, we had no idea that an unassuming Ricardo De La Riva had scored wins over the likes of Royler Gracie and Royce Gracie in sport competition; often using his dangerous guard game.

By the early 1990’s, de la Riva had focused on becoming one of the world’s most renowned instructors, with students including the Nogueira brothers, Rogerio and Rodrigo Nogueira. Of course, the Nogueiras would later coach Silva in jiu-jitsu, and award Silva his own black belt.

Silva struggled to stop Chris Weidman’s attacks on the ground in his last Octagon appearances. So, enter the masters’ master.

“I brought Master de la Riva because every fight I end up on the bottom, and I feel safe there,” Silva said. “We’ve got the greatest jiu-jitsu fighters in the guard right here next to me. He graduated my masters (to black belt). So I was humbled to come and ask him to be part of my team, and help me correct a few things.”

Asked if he was becoming more humble, Silva was evasive.

“It depends,” he smiled. “When I feel animosity I don’t need to be humble. Otherwise I’m humble; the most important thing in our lives is to understand how much you can be better the next day. In a way, that’s being humble.”

After that ugly injury, many of us had been calling for Silva to stay retired. He sounded confused even before the bout, contemplating retirement after an earlier surprise KO loss.

Tuesday’s conference had Silva looking forward to the future, but also with an eye on his past, learning from his mistakes and honoring his masters. He sounds ready to learn and evolve, and be a student again.

In short, he sounded like a martial artist again. And that, not his mood, has me excited about UFC 183.