Fame, adulation, and superstardom are the trappings of greatness, yet ‘The Spider’ Anderson Silva has used his GOAT moniker to become a multi-millionaire MMA mogul
He’s widely regarded as the highest-earning mixed martial artist in the world – and it’s easy to see why. Anderson Silva is undefeated in the Octagon, is the UFC’s longest-reigning champion, and was the first MMA star to be sponsored by global giant Nike. Here he takes a few moments out from his hectic schedule to talk to FO’s John Morgan and reveals some of his hopes, fears, and plans for the future, including a new career as an actor on the Silva screen…
Put simply, it’s not always easy to track down UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Much like his opponents in the Octagon are often left with their fists awkwardly flailing in the air, so too do phone calls, emails, and text messages aimed at him somehow struggle to find their mark.
It’s not that Silva, the man largely considered the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, isn’t generous with his time. Far from it. It’s just that ‘The Spider’ may be one of the few fighters on the UFC’s roster whose busy schedule rivals that of the promotion’s well-traveled president, Dana White.
After several unsuccessful attempts at finding time for a chat, we finally connect just moments after an afternoon workout session at his beautiful, state-of-the-art training center – Muay Thai College – in Torrance, California. It’s also just a few precious hours before he’ll jet off to the latest in a series of high-level business meetings he often holds on two different continents.
Silva’s greeting is welcoming. His unmistakable falsetto tone, oddly reminiscent of fellow gifted pugilist Mike Tyson, puts you immediately at ease. And unlike in years past, a translator is necessary only on the rarest of occasions.
“Hey, bro!” he says, sounding almost like a local in his Southern California lair.
Truth be told, that type of warmth isn’t uncommon in the mixed martial arts community. As any longtime fan of the sport can tell you, despite the violent nature of the hand-to-hand combat that takes place in the UFC’s Octagon, the men that willingly have the gate locked behind them are among the kindest, most respectful, most honorable men you will ever meet. But Anderson Silva is not just another one of the guys. He’s MMA royalty.
“Anderson Silva has established himself as a true superstar,” Silva’s longtime manager, Ed Soares, told Fighters Only. “He’s absolutely mobbed by fans in the United States, and in Brazil it’s unbelievable.” So in-demand is Silva in his native country, his marketing interests in the country are handled by 9ine Sports and Entertainment, a company co-owned by Brazilian footballing legend Ronaldo. Other clients on the group’s roster include soccer stars Neymar, Falcao, Lucas and Leandro Damião, as well as volleyballer Bruno Rezende and professional poker player André Akkari.
I have seen first-hand the champion’s popularity in his native country. A recent trip to Brazil to cover a UFC event revealed hundreds of Rio de Janeiro bus stops plastered with Silva’s image.
Outside the fighter hotel that week, a makeshift bazaar was set up with vendors peddling what appeared to be somewhat-less-than-official UFC gear, and as they called out to potential customers on the street, their cries were not that of the promotion, but that of the country’s biggest star – so revered he’s even earned what seems to be the nation’s highest honor: the dismissal of one’s last name.
But when we talk, he is far away from the adoring crowds and sprawling masses waiting for an autograph or picture or handshake. Silva is alone, and he wants to talk about his newest passion, one in which he is not known as one of the greatest that ever lived – at least not yet.
“I’m working hard to become an actor,” Silva tells FO. “It’s not easy, but I really like it. I like doing it, and I have a great opportunity. I’m working on a few jobs while I’m in Brazil, and I’ve started taking acting classes in the US, too, in Hollywood. I’m working very hard at it.”
It probably shouldn’t be all that surprising Silva still plans on taking part in some type of performance art when the gloves finally come off. After all, this is the man who once donned a black fedora and shimmering gold tracksuit to enter the Pride ring to Michael Jackson’s iconic track Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, complete with The King of Pop’s signature dance moves.
Even UFC boss White has labeled Silva “an artist,” seemingly as much for the fighter’s unique approach to everything from contract negotiating to media relations as for his one-of-a-kind combat craftsmanship.
But when Silva talks about his future plans, there is a tone of excitement in his voice. There is a wide-eyed expression as he openly considers the potential.
“I’d love to star in movies in Brazil and in Hollywood,” Silva says. “I have great coaches helping me there, just like I’ve always had great coaches in my fighting career. When I’m done fighting, I’ll focus even more on acting school and try to succeed in the movies. And I don’t want to just be in action movies. I want to be in all kinds of movies. I don’t want to just be cast as a martial artist.”
UFC fighters, of course, don’t exactly have the finest track record when it comes to the silver screen. Superstars like Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, Cung Le and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson have all scored headlining roles in feature films, but none has yet placed an Academy Award in their trophy case.
Silva seems intent on changing that track record, but it’s not his only current venture. He also hopes to grow the roster of fighters working under his tutelage at his Muay Thai College, helping to discover and train the next generation of lethal strikers who will make their names in MMA. He’s also a fiercely devoted family man who enjoys spending time with his children as often as time will permit.
“I’ve been working a lot with my sponsors in Brazil, shooting commercials and doing appearances,” Silva says. “I’ve also been working on my academy, as well as spending time with my family. Those are really the things I focus on, as well as training.”
When you watch Silva compete, it’s easy to forget he has nearly 16 years of professional fighting experience. His speed, his fluidity and his creativity – it seems impossible that it could all stem from a man rapidly closing in on 40 years of age. Sure, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture did it until he was nearly a decade older, but he didn’t do it with half the flair that is Silva’s hallmark.
And, at least by mortal standards, Silva has absolutely nothing left to prove in the sport. Time after time, he’s downed top contenders, and he’s done it in impressive fashion. While White refuses to get into specifics, he’s often hinted that Silva has enjoyed several multi-million-dollar paydays, so financial burdens wouldn’t seem to be driving the future UFC Hall of Famer.
So what is it that keeps this man coming back to the gym? What is it that drives him to be the best, day after day, week after week, month after month, when it would likely be just as easy to ride off into the sunset? And what kind of 38-year-old fighter is offered an eight-fight contract extension from the UFC and counters with a request for 10?
“My motivation is simply that I love this sport so much,” Silva says. “I have 10 more fights in my new contract. I don’t know if I’ll get to do all 10 fights, but I love my job. Fighting makes me very happy, and this is my inspiration.”
As we finish our conversation, it’s hard not to think that experiences like this will be the type journalists, fans and even other fighters will talk about for generations to come.
Sure, there are other superstars in MMA; other talented, charismatic individuals who possess incredible fighting skills, are gifted with the ‘it’ factor and who command an audience like few others around them. But Silva, like no other fighter in the UFC today, stands head and shoulders above them. Whether it be sitting in a sold-out arena, feeling the bass rattle your bones as the lights go out and the champion’s customary DMX track, Ain’t No Sunshine, hits the speakers, or feeling the electricity in the building as Bruce Buffer yells his name, there is a unique anticipation when ‘The Spider’ hits the cage.
He is capable of things others simply are not. He has accomplished things others never will. He is the type of fighter that comes along once in a generation, if you’re lucky. And he insists he’s getting better.
“I’m always learning as a fighter,” Silva adds. “I work every day to get better. My coaches are constantly showing me new techniques. Even working with my students, I can learn new things from them.
“I think about the future, but for now my focus is fighting, and I am becoming a better martial artist every single day.”
For years, it was believed UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva would one day either (and almost inconceivably given his six-foot-two frame) drop down to 170lb to challenge UFC welterweight champ Georges St Pierre or invite the French-Canadian champ up to 185lb for a bout between the two most dominant champions of their generation.
Lately, that talk has softened as Jon Jones has embarked on a run that began with him as the youngest UFC champion and now sees him ready to lay claim to the title of most-dominant light heavyweight, ever.
Silva, of course, is the common denominator in both of those potential superfights, either one of which would likely be considered among the biggest ever made in the sport.
Yet ‘The Spider’ refuses to discuss anything past UFC 162, where he headlines against undefeated challenger Chris Weidman.
“Maybe one day I can have these fights,” Silva says. “I think the fans want to see the superfights, but right now I can’t say for sure they will happen. I have my plans right now, and that’s to fight Chris Weidman.
“No one knows what can happen. Georges St Pierre might have other plans. Jon Jones might have plans. Right now, I’m focused on Chris Weidman.”
While Anderson Silva is known the world over as ‘The Spider,’ he actually rarely uses the eight-legged arachnid as a representation of his brand. Instead, Silva has long relied on a stylized bumblebee, a now-iconic black and yellow insect with a flailing stinger and flying fists.
The alternate logo has appeared over the years on a variety of projects, from Silva’s signature clothing lines to a limited-edition Meister Chief Anderson Silva watch to a one-of-a-kind Chevy Camaro tricked out by California’s West Coast Customs, made famous by the MTV show Pimp My Ride.
The logo now features prominently in Silva’s new training center, Muay Thai College.
“I know some people probably find it interesting,” Silva says. “After all, I’m ‘The Spider,’ and yet I use a bumblebee as my personal logo. But that has always been the logo I’ve used and wanted for my school. I know a spider might be too much for some people watching; but the bee, kids can use it. Ladies can use it. It looks good.”
But it’s not just pure fashion that influenced Silva’s choice to choose a bee as his alternate icon. The UFC star says there is some symbolism there, as well.
“The bee is always busy, always working,” Silva adds. “And even though the bee is small, it is strong.”
As arguably the most famous mixed martial artist in the world, Anderson has been on the leading edge of the sport’s development for the better part of the past decade.
But his brand launched into a special dimension in 2011, when a highlight-reel knockout of fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort captured the attention of the pair’s home nation. UFC officials capitalized on that momentum by tapping Silva to headline the company’s return to the Brazil – the first event held there in nearly 13 years – at UFC 134.
Silva destroyed Japanese import Yushin Okami at the event, but in time, UFC 134 may be less remembered for his performance inside the cage than for the business transactions that preceded it.
In a series of landmark announcements leading up to the fight, Silva’s team announced he would wear the logos of global fast-food chain Burger King, Brazilian soccer team Corinthians Paulista and, of course, Nike, completing by far the highest-profile sponsorship of an MMA competitor the UFC had ever made.
“Being associated with Nike is incredible,” Silva acknowledges. “It’s the biggest and best sporting company in the world. It’s a company that’s recognized all over the globe.”
Silva was a trailblazer in his relationship with Nike, and the multi-billion dollar company has since partnered with fellow Brazilian Junior Dos Santos and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Silva admits he’s proud to have opened the door.
“Nike only associates with the very best athletes in any sport it’s involved in,” he says. “Michael Jordan. Manny Pacquaio. Tiger Woods. So not only for me, but for Jon Jones and Junior Dos Santos also, it’s an honor to represent Nike.”
When one man thoroughly dominates his competition in the manner Anderson has during an incredible 10-straight defenses of the UFC’s middleweight title, no one questions that man’s greatness. The only real question is whether that person could potentially be the greatest of all time.
For UFC president Dana White, it’s not even a competition. “Anderson has never lost in the UFC,” White says. “He’s got the most UFC title defenses ever. He’s got the longest UFC win streak ever. In my opinion, he’s the greatest mixed martial artist ever, period.”
For Silva, it’s not quite that simple, however. “It’s good to know the people respect what you do, but I don’t know if I can say that I’m the greatest ever,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
“I just work hard every day. One day, maybe I can say I’m the best fighter in the world. But right now, that’s not realistic to say. I’m just another guy.”
No other guy has won 16 straight UFC fights or can claim the longest title reign in the history of the UFC. And no other guy has claimed seven UFC ‘Knockout of the Night’ awards. Still, Silva refuses to consider where he stands in the annals of the sport.
“I have 10 more fights on my UFC contract,” says the 38-year-old. “I have Chris Weidman coming up in July, and I can’t look past him. I can’t think about anything after that, so I don’t know what the future might bring.
“I just have to look at each fight that’s given to me. This has to be my mindset.
“When those 10 fights are done, then I can think about where I stand.”...