Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2019

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No. 5: The Matchmaker: Silva avoids spotlight, aims it at fighters

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Editor's Note: The Ultimate Fighting Championship is celebrating its 100th show on July 11 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. In the days leading up to this historic night, the Las Vegas Sun is presenting a Top 10 list of key personalities and points that have helped propel the sport into the forefront of the world's fighting conscience.

It's common knowledge around the UFC that when matchmaker Joe Silva wants something, he usually gets it.

But even Silva had to know that a recent request he made to UFC president Dana White probably wasn't going to happen.

"Joe called the other day and wanted me to fire (UFC co-owner) Lorenzo Fertitta," White laughed. "He said, 'Hey, we've got to get rid of this guy.' He was joking of course, but that's the way he is. When he calls, he's got an opinion, I listen, and a lot of times he'll get his way.

"And nobody is ever going to win an argument with him."

As ridiculous as demanding the termination of a billionaire boss sounds, anyone who has ever worked with Silva knows he's the one man that just might get it done.

But despite his high profile within the organization and notorious persuasion skills, Silva is an expert at staying out of the mainstream spotlight. He does not grant interviews and little is known about him personally.

Even White, who is pretty much the complete source for all Silva-related information, remains hazy on his background.

"Joe was involved even before Zuffa bought the company," said White, who helped talk his high school buddies Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta into purchasing the organization prior to UFC 30.

"What I believe is that the old owner didn't know a lot about MMA and Joe was kind of his right-hand man. It was actually Tito (Ortiz) that told me at that time, 'You should talk to this guy.'"

White was immediately impressed with Silva because of his knowledge of the sport and it didn't take long for the job title of "matchmaker" to start following Silva around.

According to former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes, it was an honor that Silva had coveted throughout his entire career with the organization but maybe didn't realize how much work would involve.

"Before he landed the job for the matchmaker, he wanted to be it terribly bad with the old UFC, that's all he talked about," Hughes said. "Then after he got his feet wet he didn't want it anymore because he found out it was a lot of hard work. I know if you asked him he would tell you that's a true story."

If Silva did underestimate his responsibilities at first, he surely wouldn't be the only one to make the mistake. Matchmaking for the UFC is a lot more than taking two fighters with the best records and announcing a title fight.

In addition to analyzing the style of fighters and creating an exciting matchup, Silva deals with injuries, last-second bails and a schedule that's become a lot busier as the success of the UFC grows.

"Sometimes I'm just like, 'Joe, you have to be a glutton for stress,' because every single card you'll find him really stressed out," said former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. "With a fight card, there's a million and one things that will go wrong. Sometimes he'll have a card where it's cursed and everything goes wrong and he's trying to solve problems and get it together because he's guaranteed fans a fight."

Before anything can go wrong, Silva has to first just get the fighters to agree to the event he's proposed.

That can be a challenge itself because many fighters admit that they do have a list of potential opponents in their own mind and, occasionally, Silva will disagree.

"Every time Joe Silva calls, you have an excitement but also an, 'Oh (expletive), Joe Silva is calling," Evans said. "He asks you what you think, but he has a way of making you do it even when at the time you don't want to do it. He's got a knack of persuasion where you'll be talking and then all of a sudden you're like, 'Wait, what did I just agree to?'"

Evans can even recall a specific example to prove his point. After fighting to a draw with Ortiz in 2007, Evans was hoping for a rematch with the polarizing opponent or a fight with a top contender.

Silva called and offered a fight with Michael Bisping.

"At first, he asked me what I thought about two Ultimate Fighters fighting each other for the first time," Evans said. "And I thought, 'Man, I'm going to fight Forrest Griffin.' Then he said Bisping. And nothing against Bisping, but I wanted to fight one of the top guys. He told me to think about it and I was like, 'Fine, I'll take the fight.'"

In the end, Evans admits that Silva had it right. A split decision win over Bisping later that year earned him a fight with Chuck Liddell and eventually a title shot against Forrest Griffin where he claimed the light heavyweight belt.

"He'll persuade you where he'll say, 'Listen, you can do this and you can do that and your styles are like this,'" Evans said. "And eventually you're like, 'Yeah Joe, that does sound good. Let's do it.'"

Considering how long Silva has remained a mystery man, it's unlikely he'll give up his privacy anytime soon.

But in asking fighters and other UFC employees what kind of light can be shed on Silva, there are two bottom lines that nearly everyone eventually arrives at.

First, Silva has one of the hardest jobs in the business. And second, he is very, very good at it.

"Matchmaking is probably the hardest job in this or any other sport and I don't know how Joe Silva does it," said UFC site coordinator Burt Watson.

"I'm amazed at the way he puts these fights together and at the rate he does it. I'm amazed, honestly, at how good I think he is at what he does."

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