His long-term goal was always to fight in UFC.
So when Antonio Silva received the news that he and every other Strikeforce heavyweight would compete inside the Octagon, the Brazilian could hardly contain his excitement. UFC is the destination of any fighter seeking to make a substantial living as a mixed martial artist. It’s also the place where fighters get to demonstrate their skills before the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans.
Silva, despite joining the UFC ranks off a first-round knockout loss to Daniel Cormier in September 2011, was eager to prove that he deserved his ranking as one of the top 10 heavyweights. In his mind, the loss to Cormier was nothing more than a blip on an otherwise impressive 16-4 career ledger.
Silva was determined to show the UFC folks that he is no walk-over heavyweight. And making his debut against former titleholder Cain Velasquez, instead of originally scheduled opponent Roy Nelson, was the perfect stage on which to make his point.
But Silva never got the opportunity to make a good first impression. Velasquez pummeled and bloodied him on May 26 en route to a first-round knockout victory at UFC 146.
Now Silva returns to the Octagon on Friday night in Minneapolis against hard-hitting heavyweight Travis Browne. This time around, however, Silva isn’t out to prove that he is among the best heavyweights. Things are more severe: He's seeking to secure his spot on UFC’s payroll.
“This fight for me is all-or-nothing,” Silva told ESPN.com. “I’m coming into this fight knowing the importance of fighting in the UFC. The UFC is the best promotion in the world, and by having a better performance and victory, it will transcend into a better life for my family.
“It will also transcend into a better life for me professionally.”
Throughout his training camp in preparation for Friday night’s fight, thoughts of his wife, Maria, and two daughters -- Annie (13) and Iysha (3) -- were always present. They've been the reasons he always trains vigorously, and they are the reasons he took his training regimen to an even higher level for this particular fight.
Silva can’t afford a loss to Browne, who will bring a 13-0-1 record into the bout.
Each time Browne’s image enters Silva’s mind, images of his family immediately follow. Browne represents someone who is determined to take food off the Silva family’s table.
Those images of Browne bring a hard frown to Silva’s normally joyful face. But the joy quickly returns when Silva envisions Browne’s fighting style.
Cormier and Velasquez, teammates at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., are wrestling-based fighters, whereas Browne butters his bread with strikes. Browne won't shy away from a striking altercation, and that suits Silva just fine. It’s a recipe that Silva believes will put him back in the win column.
“I like to fight against strikers,” Silva said. “I’m not taking anything away from Browne, he is definitely a good fighter, but his wrestling skills aren’t to the level of Cormier and Cain Velasquez.
“Unfortunately during my first fight in UFC [against Velasquez] I got cut and was unable to continue. But this time I am going to go out there and show the UFC fans the fighter that I really am. You’re going to see a ‘Bigfoot’ who is angry and with an appetite for a victory.”
The anger and hunger have not waned once in the days leading to Friday night’s showdown, and it’s been that way since Silva’s training camp began. Unlike his two previous training camps, Silva’s opponent has remained the same for this fight. Each training day was staged to prepare for Browne. And Silva is certain that not having to alter his fight plan will serve him well Friday night.
“It’s enabled me to focus on one strategy for my opponent,” Silva said. “Since the opponent remained the same from the beginning of my camp until the end of my camp, I was able to stay very focused.
“That is definitely going to benefit me in this fight.”
It might also ensure that Silva gets to stay on UFC’s roster, or at least remain relevant within the promotion -- allowing him to continue the process of securing a better life for his wife and two daughters.