Becoming the Axe Murderer: The Early Years of Wanderlei Silva
by Fraser Coffeen on Jul 7, 2011 1:00 PM EDT in MMA History...
One of the lasting images of UFC 132 will surely be Wanderlei Silva, face down on the canvas, a victim of the kind of savage knock out he delivered to so many opponents throughout his illustrious career. It was a sad moment for fans of the former Pride champion, as the legend's light looks to be permanently faded. There's already plenty of
talk about a possible retirement, about brain damage, about his need to quit fighting for the sake of his health and his family, so here, we're talking about something else. Let's take a look back at happier times, when that stare, that tattoo, that wrist roll struck fear in the hearts of men. Let's take a look back at the birth of The Axe Murderer.
The beginning of Wanderlei Silva's career takes us back to the early days of MMA and the wild world of Brazilian Vale Tudo fighting. In Brazil in the 90s, purists felt that as you added rules, you moved away from the true spirit of competition. This was such a big issue that Royce Gracie stepped away from the UFC when they began adding basic rules such as time limits. Many Brazilian organizations kept the full no holds barred style even after the UFC began to add things like rounds and illegal techniques. Silva started his career under these lax rules, and he thrived.
Silva's first two fights were for Brazilian Vale Tudo Fighting, an organization that played host to some big Brazilian names including Babalu, Cyborg, and Pele. Already you see Silva's violent side on display here - first in a KO over Dilson Filho,
then in a wild fight where he dumps Marcelao Barbosa out of the ring, injuring his shoulder.
From there, Silva moved on to IVC. If you've never seen an IVC show, you are depriving yourself of some crazy early MMA action that really must be seen. Low blows, soccer kicks, near riots, chokes using the ropes... it was a wild organization, and Wanderlei immediately found a home. His first IVC show was a tournament, and Silva breezed into the finals via brutal head kick,
and nasty bare knuckle ground and pound.
The finals would prove to be his toughest fight yet, and in many ways, the definitive fight of Silva's early career. The IVC 2 tournament final was the biggest fight of Silva's young career. His opponent was Artur Mariano, making his debut that night. Mariano had made it to the finals by defeating one of my personal favorite semi-obscure early UFC fighters, the plucky Mark Hall, in the semi-finals. Here is the fight, in its entirety:
Yes, Silva lost, but this remains a key moment in his early career due to the way he lost. The cut comes early in the fight off of a headbutt thrown by Silva himself. As the fight progresses, he just keeps throwing that headbutt, opening the cut more and more until the doctors stop the fight. Is it a smart strategy? Certainly not. But it is still the best example of Silva's willingness to give it his all in order to win.
Quick aside, but this was pretty much it for Mariano. He has just 4 more fights on his record against no one of note, ending with a 5-2 overall record, but hey, he beat Wanderlei Silva, so will forever have that going for him.
After this loss, Silva spent two more years fighting in Brazil, including a win over UFC veteran Mike Van Arsdale, and the famous Vitor Belfort loss. His last Brazilian fight took place in 1999 at IVC 10 as he faced MMA journeyman Eugene Jackson. The fight is essential Silva, 30 seconds of unrestrained violence. If you only watch one fight from this article, watch this one:
And with that destruction, Silva left Brazil's Vale Tudo world behind. He would make his fighting debut outside of Brazil at UFC 20 just 10 days later, and he would come in with a new nickname, given to him by the UFC promoters in recognition of his brutal style.