For Antonio Silva, Strikeforce tourney starts and ends with Fedor Emelianenko
Fedor Emelianenko (32-2 MMA, 1-1 SF) is the title, tournament, and big fish all wrapped into one, says Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva (15-2 MMA, 2-1 SF).
He's not even remotely concerned about what comes next.
Some look at Silva as a mere placeholder for the Russian's advance in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix. "Bigfoot" says they're about to get a big surprise, just like they did this past summer.
Silva said he was supposed to lose to Andrei Arlovski this past May at "Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery." The former UFC champion had hit the skids with back-to-back losses against Emelianenko and Brett Rogers, and he needed a win. Silva would be the pivot for a career turnaround.
"They thought I would be upgrading Arlovski's career," Silva told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) through translator and manager Alex Davis. "Instead, I sank it a little more.
"That's what I'm going to do this time, too."
The Brazilian heavyweight takes battle stations against Emelianenko next Saturday at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J., for "Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva," which airs live on Showtime.
Oddsmakers have little faith in Silva's upset potential. He's nearly a 3-to-1 underdog, and he's been largely absent from the conversation about who is expected to come out on top in an eight-man field with several ranked competitors.
Silva, a former EliteXC champion, doesn't argue with his place on heavyweight lists. He knows he has to prove himself before he cracks the top five.
"This fight for me is like a final," he said. "I'm not even trying to look beyond this fight."
But he wouldn't be so confident if he hadn't come so close to the edge in his previous fight. His bank account was just about empty when he met the dangerous Mike Kyle at "Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu," and his camp had been thrown together last-minute in his hometown of Campina Grande, ParaÃba, Brazil. He was a heavy favorite; you could say Kyle was brought to be his pivot.
Instead, Kyle nearly knocked him out with a thunderous punch in the first round. He was about to lose all the momentum he'd gained with Arlovski. Somehow, though, he managed to survive and turn the tables in the second round when he took Kyle to the mat and knocked him out.
"I had a bad personal moment, and that fight proved to me that I can surpass things like that," he said. "That fight was very important for me, and I thank God for everything."
Although he is the favorite, Emelianenko has a lot to prove as well. The former PRIDE champion suffered the first true loss of his career this past June when he submitted to Fabricio Werdum. He's beaten back questions of retirement and loss of focus and sat on the shelf for the latter half of 2010 as his management grappled with Strikeforce over a contract extension. The fight with Silva is his first chance to right his ship.
Silva, for one, believes Emelianenko has a lot of fight left in him and will show that to the world â€“ just not against him.
"I have to be very calm and very focused," Silva said. "I respect him in the same way I respect the other 18 fighters I've fought. But I can't respect him when I get in the cage. Then, it's about supporting my family."
Many years ago, Silva was heartbroken when Emelianenko defeated his idol, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, on two separate occasions. He's now ready to get some payback for American Top Team.
The finals are just around the corner.
"When I win this fight, I"m going to dedicate it to 'Minotauro,'" Silva said. I'm also going to dedicate it to my family, and (American Top Team's) Dan Lambert, who have all helped me."