Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | 8:30 p.m.
Out of the 10 fighters who took part in the UFC 132 open workouts at the MGM Grand on Wednesday afternoon, only one gave an impassioned speech to the assembled fans thanking them for their support.
It was unsurprisingly Las Vegas-based Wanderlei Silva, who would say the only thing he loves more than the fans who made him famous during his days in PRIDE is putting on a fighting spectacle for them in the cage.
“It’s not for money,” Silva, who turns 35 this weekend, said of his motivation to keep fighting. “I have a comfortable life now. It’s for that moment. I love to fight. I can’t describe it.”
Taking that into account, it’s understandable that Silva has gone through a rough stretch over the past 17 months. Silva has endured the longest layoff in his career after injuring his knee in a UFC 110 victory over Michael Bisping.
Silva (33-10-1 MMA, 3-5 UFC) can hardly wait the three remaining days before climbing into the octagon for his UFC 132 co-main event against Chris Leben (25-7 MMA, 11-6 UFC).
“I’m so excited like it’s my first fight,” Silva said. “I’m just thinking about the fight.”
Silva’s outlook toward his profession is in direct contrast with Leben’s.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t like fighting,” Leben said last week. “I love the training and everything else. But the day of the fight, anybody that says they really love this, is probably lying to you.”
It’s possible that Leben is swayed by bad memories from his last time out. Entering on a three-fight win streak, Leben suffered an upset, first-round TKO loss to Brian Stann at UFC 125.
Leben said it was among the worst he had felt in the octagon because of a self-inflicted illness.
“I ate a bunch of candy, dude,” Leben said. “I didn’t eat sugar, then when I made weight I went and bought gummy bears, jaw breakers, ice cream and ate that and my body hadn’t had sugar. So backstage, I was puking.”
But Leben had reasons beyond that for his recent discontent with fighting. Leben said he enjoyed it all at the beginning of his career when he had “issues” to work out — some of which were infamously shown on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”.
He feels he’s in a better place and uncovered his true passion when he moved to Hawaii four years ago to run a gym — teaching mixed martial arts. Leben speaks more proudly about helping a group of high school kids lose 50 pounds and becoming self-confident through MMA than anything he’s accomplished in his UFC career.
He wants to continue to teach long after he’s done fighting.
“My motivations have changed,” Leben said. “I want people to go out and say, ‘If Chris can do it, then I’ve got to be able to do it.’ I want to be able to inspire and motivate. That’s my goal now.”
Leben has gone as far as to say that he’s somewhat scared of Silva. Leben became a popular figure because of his tendency to draw opponents into wild fights with little regard for safety, so it’s hard to believe when he expresses emotions like fear.
But Silva understood Leben.
“Imagine going into a small octagon with 20,000 people screaming and fighting a tough guy; it’s tons of pressure,” Silva said. “Everyone feels the pressure, which is fine. But for me, I’m one guy inside the gym. But in the lights, in front of the public, I am a different guy. I want to give my best and entertain my fans.”
Finally, a point about their sport Leben and Silva can agree on. Leben believes fighters have begun caring less about putting on a show in recent years and more about winning a championship belt that he called a “superficial object.”
Leben said he held his responsibility to entertain as highly as his desire to win. Silva feels the same way.
“That’s why I want to fight him so much,” Leben said. “I want to see guys who fight to win, not fight not to lose. I would rather have five great fights than have the title for five fights that sucked, but I won the belt again every time.”
Their philosophies are the same. Their reasons are different.
“I like to swing,” Silva said. “I like to fight. I’m crazy.”