Thiago Silva kicks off '11 the right way

Following a 364-day absence from the Octagon due to a back injury, Thiago Silva made a triumphant return Saturday with a unanimous decision win over Brandon Vera on the main card of UFC 125 in Las Vegas.

As long as his health allows it, Silva says it was the start to what will be a very active year in 2011.

"I just want to be healthy," Silva told ESPN.com when asked what his goals are for the new year. "I would like to fight three more times. Maybe even four."

Internet headlines and Twitter comments Saturday declared in bold letters the news that "Silva is back." Prior to the win, there had been some speculation the UFC would cut the Brazilian fighter, who was stuck in a 1-2 skid dating back to January 2009.

But shortly after his dominant performance against Vera, during which he won every round on all three scorecards, Silva (15-2) said he never felt like, competitively, he had fallen off the map.

He just needed to get healthy.

"I was never out. I was never gone," Silva said. "The only thing was that I was injured. I felt good in the fight. The back was 100 percent. I was a bit worried after the year off. You always worry about that. But I put up the win and that's what matters."

Although Silva kept his words short following the win, he and his team had to be satisfied with the results after it appeared at certain times in 2010 his ability to fight at all was in jeopardy.

The 28-year-old suffered from three herniated disks at the start of last year and could barely get out of bed during the two weeks prior to his fight against Rashad Evans at UFC 108. Silva had considered pulling out of that event, but many fans will remember that as the "cursed" event, in which multiple fights fell apart due to injury.

Due to the situation, Silva didn't feel right about pulling out of the main event on late notice -- but in the future, he plans to listen to his body more.

"Ending his career actually became an option for a little bit," said Silva's manager, Eddie Miranda. "The only other options he had were to get surgery or try physical therapy and build up his strength from scratch, which is what he did. He literally had the strength of an old lady at the start of it.

"I think he's had to learn to listen to his body and be smart through all of this. Before, he was one of the guys who would train nonstop for five hours a day. During the injury, he understood that he only had one shot to get his back strong and he had to change some things."

The recovery was long but apparently very successful. Silva says his back feels stronger than ever now despite foregoing the surgery insisted upon by the first two doctors he met with.

With his "comeback" win over Vera out of the way, Silva refused to single out any specific opponent he wants to face next, although did admit he's hoping for a rematch against Lyoto Machida.

Machida knocked out Silva in the first round of their nontitle fight at UFC 94 two years ago, but has appeared vulnerable recently, dropping back-to-back fights to Mauricio Rua and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Silva said after he watched the game plans of Rua and Jackson in those fights, he believes avenging his loss to Machida would come down to one thing.

"I'd be much more patient," he said. "Of course I'd like a rematch with the guys who beat me, but that's up to the UFC. I just need to win fights."

On the other side of the equation is Vera (11-6), who now faces the prospect of being dismissed from the UFC. For the second time in as many fights, Vera was humiliated as well as beaten. In the third round, with Vera trapped against the fence, Silva began hitting him with an open palm and playing the drums on his back which gave the crowd a laugh and even earned him a 10-8 score from one of the judges.

"He spoke some bad things about me," said Silva. "In the third round, I was only trying to break his focus, that's it. But it did make the win better after the things he said."

As of late Saturday night, Vera's manager said he hadn't heard official word on his fighter's status with the UFC. Vera is 3-6 in his past nine fights.

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.