Wanderlei Silva has to stay conscious

If Wanderlei Silva wants to keep his UFC job, things have to go better than they did in his last bout. Ed Mulholland for ESPN.com

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Wanderlei Silva doesn’t need to finish Cung Le this weekend at UFC 139 to keep his spot on the roster. Heck, given his name value and place among the best fighters in mixed martial arts history, he might not even need to win.

But he’s got to stay conscious.

The former Pride champion and fan favorite is teetering on the brink of Chuck Liddell status. That is to say, as much as people love to see him fight, the desire to see him not get hurt is starting to outweigh it.

Dan Henderson, who’s crossed paths with Silva twice during his career, puts it as plain as day -- there comes a time when all fighters, but especially ones like Liddell and Silva, have to be told it’s over.

“I think [Silva’s] ability to take a punch has gone down. His chin isn’t there anymore,” Henderson told ESPN.com. “It’s unfortunate. I’m a fan of his. I’ve loved watching him but that happens to a lot of guys with his style. Chuck was the same way. It just comes time you have to realize that.”

The question is whether or not that time has truly come for Silva.

In Liddell’s case it was painfully obvious. The "Iceman" lost his final three fights via knockout, two in the first round. Conversely, Silva has suffered four knockout losses over the course of the last five years.

The latest occurred at UFC 132 in July, started off by a hard right hand from Chris Leben in the fight’s opening moments. To Silva, what happened in that fight was no different than what took place last weekend in the UFC heavyweight title fight, where Junior dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez in just 64 seconds.

“It happened to Velasquez last week,” Silva said. “You never know. In the first two minutes, everybody has power. The gloves are very small.

“[Leben] punched me in the ear and after that first punch, I didn’t see nothing. I’ve had a couple knockouts, but I feel good. I receive punches stronger than that in the gym and I’m here, you know?”

Despite the career of abuse Silva has taken, longtime friend and former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua believes regardless of any type of evidence, only a fighter knows what’s going on within his own body.

If Silva continues to claim he’s as durable as ever, he’s the best one to know in Rua’s opinion.

“No one knows himself better than the actual person,” Rua said. “He’s a fighter. He loves to fight. Any fighter that’s been training a long time eventually gets to the point they are tired of the routine, and that’s understandable. But as long as he still has fire, he’s the one who knows better than anyone where he’s at.”

There is some truth to that, but too often it’s been seen that fighters may be oblivious to their physical condition but unable to be honest about it.

Heading into this weekend, Silva acknowledged the questions regarding his health are “normal” given the circumstances, and he said he’s worked on improving the defense aspect of his stand-up.

But if the lights go off early again, that would be a total of seven knockout losses in his career -- the exact same number as Liddell. It would be a tough task to talk the UFC into allowing him to risk No. 8.

“[UFC president Dana White] knows when they’ve had enough,” Henderson said. “But with the case of Chuck, it took two to three fights of Dana telling him he wants him to be done before he was really done.”