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Friday, October 19, 2007
Silva not fazed by fighting in Franklin's home town

By Denis Martins
Sherdog.com

To Brazilian mixed martial artists, fighting in an opponent's homeland is more common than anyone outside of South America's biggest country can imagine.

Brazil doesn't have major MMA promotions that pay huge salaries to their native athletes. When Brazilian fighters want recognition and money, they have to leave their friendly confines and travel abroad.

Silva v Marquardt
It took little time for Anderson Silva, right, to figure out Nathan Marquardt at UFC 73.
Soccer, the top sport in Brazil, has a few similarities to MMA. Junior soccer players only reach their financial independence if they can surpass expectations and leave Brazil to play in Europe. The status of stars like Kaka, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo were lifted to unimaginable heights when they signed to play in Spain, France, Italy or Holland.

However, Brazilian soccer players play alongside the Europeans -- not just against them, like in MMA.

"MMA and soccer are sports where Brazilians have talent," says Jornal do Vale-Tudo editor Jose Mauricio Costa. "Brazilian fighters intend to go to foreign countries and see these opportunities as conquests."

They see their futures in the United States, Japan and England. They look at Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

Silva defends his title against Rich Franklin on Saturday in Franklin's hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, but the fact is Silva's been fighting in hostile territory his whole career.

Based in Curitiba, Brazil, the skinny Muay Thai fighter made his MMA debut in what might as well have been a foreign land: Mato Grosso, a Brazilian state he wasn't at all familiar with. He beat two opponents in one night -- one of which was Super Challenge Grand Prix lightweight champion Fabrico Camoes -- making his first journey a successful one.

"I beat Camoes, and I repeatedly watch that fight whenever I get the chance to because I can look back to the past and compare it with where I'm at today," Silva tells Sherdog.com. "I came back to fight in Mato Grosso one more time, and it wasn't easy. My life then was completely different than the fans that know me now can imagine. Those were tough times."

Silva's perseverance catapulted him into matches outside of Brazil. In 2001, he traveled to Japan to challenge Shooto star Hayato Sakurai, who had never lost and was a significant favorite on his home turf. Yet Silva won a unanimous decision and took the prestigious Shooto 167-pound belt home with him to Brazil. It was just another win over the enemy in enemy territory.

"There was a lot of drama before that fight," Silva says. "Plus, I was fighting an undefeated Japanese idol with 20 fights on his résumé, in his homeland. I also watch this fight when I can to remind me where I came from and the upset wins I've accomplished."

Then there was the time he went to Korea to fight Jeremy Horn. Horn isn't Korean, but Silva still had the deck stacked against him.

"That fight was worse than having to face two heavyweights at the same time in their home country," Silva says, laughing. "I didn't have a team. I had lost my first fight in Japan and the fans stopped supporting me, but thank God that my way of treating people helped create friendships with rivals of my fight team, and I was able to get a decision win over Horn."

"The Spider" moved on to England, where he fought local legend Lee Murray in Cage Rage. Silva might have been expected to win, but no one in attendance wanted him to. Still he defeated Murray to take another promotion's title back to Brazil.

After leaving Cage Rage, Silva joined the UFC. In the biggest MMA promotion in the world, he has overcome every obstacle he's faced, including a language barrier and four skilled American opponents.

Some fans booed when he beat the Americans. That's part of fighting on foreign soil, though. Silva insists that Brazilians have to earn their glory by traveling long distances, facing tough opposition and playing it smart on their foes' home turf. He'll look to continue doing that on Saturday.

"From where I come, the fact that I will be fighting where Rich lives will not affect me mentally when I step into the Octagon on Oct. 20," Silva says. "My whole life in fighting is about this. I trained for this moment. I'm a fighter and I'm ready to fight in any situation. It doesn't matter if it is in my backyard or in hell against the devil."

Denis Martins covers mixed martial arts for Sherdog.com.