Anderson Silva, UFC legend, living in moment ahead of boxing return

There was a lightness, a giddiness about Anderson Silva in the weeks leading up to his return to long-awaited boxing.

“At this moment in my life, I’m just doing something I like to do,” the UFC legend recently told The Post via Zoom. “I’m free to fight MMA again or boxing or kickboxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu, anything. Because I like [to] fight. I like challenges.”

The first competitive challenge of the post-UFC phase of Silva’s combat sports career arrives Saturday night at Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico, when he will step into the ring for the first time in 16 years against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at an event dubbed Tribute to the Kings.

The pay-per-view event carries a suggested retail price tag of $39.99, with the main card scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern.

The last time he laced up boxing gloves — which are of course larger than MMA gloves — came in his native Brazil against debuting fighter Julio Cesar De Jesus. He won that fight by second-round knockout, lifting his record in the boxing ring to 1-1 after having dropped his own pro debut in the sport 23 years ago. That’s half a lifetime ago for the 46-year-old, and it came about a year before he signed on with the UFC, where he became the most accomplished middleweight in the sport’s history.

Those two bouts, though decades ago, are more boxing experience than some other recent high-profile mixed martial artists have taken in with them as they’ve tried their hand at boxing. Conor McGregor made his pro debut against the legendary Floyd Mayweather Jr. four years ago, and Ben Askren did the same when he faced YouTube influencer-turned-major boxing draw Jake Paul in April. Each was stopped by his respective opponent.

But even with a little bit of pro boxing experience under his belt, to go along with decades of training in the discipline alongside his MMA and other individual discipline training, Silva knows that this opponent is a different beast. It’s not quite the step up McGregor made against Mayweather, but Chavez Jr. has competed as a high-level boxer for years.

Anderson Silva
Getty Images

“A long, long time ago,” Silva says of his past as a pugilist. “Of course, it’s a different level right now, but I try to enjoy [it]. I try to [absorb] and learn new technique with my team.”

The journey appears to be most interesting to Silva. He’s passionate about boxing and was openly discussing his desire to box all-time great Roy Jones Jr. as far back as 2008, a few years into his lengthy reign as champion at 185 pounds. That’s a fight Silva won’t rule out for the future, although he’s content to take opportunities as they come.

As a bonus for Silva, he’ll be sharing the card with his opponent’s father, the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., as he returned for an exhibition against Hector Camacho Jr. — himself the son of the elder Chavez’s career nemesis.

“This is a special show,” Silva said with a wide smile. “Julio Cesar Chavez [Sr.] is a good fighter. It’s the last fight. I’m a big fan, and I fight on the same card [as him]. It’s incredible for me. I’m very lucky.”

Chavez Jr. (52-5-1, 34 KOs), who missed the contracted 182-pound weight limit and as a result forfeited $100,000 to Silva, would figure to have the crowd on his side. He’s also 11 years younger than the MMA legend, and he’s been in the ring with some of the best middleweights in boxing in recent years, including Canelo Alvarez, Daniel Jacobs and Sergio Martinez. Those bouts account for three of his five defeats, including quitting after the fifth round against Brooklyn native Jacobs — against whom Chavez Jr. also failed to make weight, forfeiting $1 million in the process.

The son of the legend has had a peculiar run the last few years, which could be something that works in Silva’s favor. But Silva is a martial artist at heart and respects the danger all opponents present, regardless of the discipline.

“Every single fight is dangerous,” Silva said. “When you go inside the cage or go inside the ring, it’s danger.”

Silva’s MMA highlight reel is full of a diverse array of strikes and submissions. He’s leveled opponents with knees, elbows, kicks and punches. He’s punished elite wrestlers and grapplers with chokes. Before ending his 14-year UFC tenure on a 1-7 stretch (with one other victory overturned by a positive test for a pair of steroids), Silva had amassed a 33-4 mark with 26 finishes, many of which are among the most iconic assortment of KOs and tapouts in the sport’s relatively-young history.

Perhaps the most impressive display of how dangerous his hands are, in particular, came in a one-off fight up a weight class in the midst of his middleweight title run, when he schooled Forrest Griffin just eight months after the opponent had lost the light heavyweight title. Almost exclusively utilizing his hands for the 3:23 the bout lasted, Silva channeled Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” in avoiding Griffin’s punches and dropped him on three occasions. The last one came on a jab while moving backwards, prompting a floored Griffin to all but say “No mas.”

Silva still is grateful for the “magic moment” that came from that fight against Griffin, whom he referred to as “a legend in the sport” and professed his gratitude for facing in August 2009.

“I remember watching a lot of videos about Muhammad Ali, and it inspired me a lot,” recalled Silva of the leadup to the Griffin bout. “I go, ‘I’ll try to do the same [on] this night.’ I trained hard, tried to enjoy the moment and pass the real heart, you know, how much I’m happy when I fight. And that fight, I think I was successful in this fight.”

But that was MMA, and it was 12 years ago. Silva has understandably lost a step in his mid 40s. He recovered from a fractured lower leg suffered at the end of 2013. He was finished by head strikes for the first time in seven years last October in what was the final fight of his UFC career.

And yet Silva is comfortable with his myriad accomplishments coming into his return to boxing and is content to soak in the experience as he continues his martial arts journey in a different discipline than the one fight fans have been watching him in for so many years.

“I try to enjoy because, in this moment in my life, I’m so happy,” said Silva, again flashing a wide, satisfied smile. “I don’t need to prove nothing for anybody. I just try to enjoy every single moment.”

Leave a Comment