This past weekend Wanderlei Silva finally responded to months of prodding from master antagonist Chael Sonnen in the form of a decidedly memorable YouTube video. The five minute rant revealed a couple things about the Axe Murderer that weren't exactly public knowledge previously.
First, if you compare the former Pride Middleweight Champion to a six foot, 205 pound bowel movement in a public forum it's not going to sit well with him. In fact he's probably going to want to beat you up over it. Throw in a history of making disparaging comments about Brazil and he might just reach for the A-bomb of insults and call you a "butt face" while blasting some epic guitar shredding in the background.
But you probably could have figured that out beforehand, minus the penchant for metallic runs up and down the Phrygian Dominant Scale and playground taunts. What you probably didn't know about Silva, and what this video reveals, is that underneath all the tattoos and blood curdling stares there lurks a shrewd businessman. What's more, he's a businessman who, in the immortal words of Eric B. and Rakim, is ready to get paid in full.
In case you were wondering why it took Silva a week to issue a response to the challenge Sonnen issued after defeating Maurico "Shogun" Rua on the UFC's debut on FOX Sports 1 on August 17th, here's a hint: it wasn't because it took him seven days to come up with such gems as, "I go in to to punch the face, I go in to draw blood, to break noses" and "Sonnen, your trash talk activated my inner warrior."
For a clue to the Axe Murderer's motivation, just look at the timing of when he unleashed this vitriolic masterwork upon the world. It came just one day after UFC President Dana White revealed to MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani that a potential fight between Silva and Sonnen was on ice unless the Brazilian caved on his demand for pay per view points.
Now it could just be a coincidence, but it certainly appears Silva is trying to drum up enough public demand for a match with Sonnen that White will eventually have no choice but to book the fight. Whether or not Silva actually believes he can get a cut of the PPV pie, he looks to be attempting to leverage himself into a sweeter deal by putting steam on his rivalry with Sonnen.
Sound far fetched? Just listen to Wanderlei himself explain it:
"If Dana White receives one million messages tomorrow, do you think this fight won't happen?" Silva mused via translation. "Who puts on the fights are the fans [sic]. And the fans are with me."
It's a smart strategy. White has a long history of making matches to appease his Twitter followers. What's more, many of the biggest money fights in history have been grudge matches. In a sport where conflict is the stock in trade nothing causes the market to soar as well as a good 'ol fashioned blood feud.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans provided perhaps the best example of this in modern MMA history when they drew a million buys for their main event bout at UFC 114. That's the highest buyrate of all time for a UFC PPV headlined by a non-title match, and it's tied for the fifth most-purchased show in company history. The secret to that show's success was mounting tension between the two during a top rated season of The Ultimate Fighter which eventually culminated in a series of off the charts heated exchanges during a series of UFC: Primetime specials that aired in the weeks leading up to the fight. The story was simple: both men hated one other and fans couldn't wait to find out what would happen when they finally got in the cage together.
For further proof of how conflict equals cash, look no further than the rematch between Sonnen and Anderson Silva at UFC 148. That show drew 925,000 buys, which over the past three years is second behind yet another grudge match: Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz at UFC 158. That show netted 950,000 buys thanks in part to some next level trash talk on Diaz's part during the week before the fight.
Considering where they both are in their respective careers, Wanderlei Silva vs. Sonnen might not be the the kind of fight that would do a million buys, but if both men can keep delivering heated interviews like the one Silva released this past weekend, it has the chance to be a legitimate money match. At the very least it could help push the GSP/Johny Hendricks headlined UFC 167 over the edge towards the million buy mark.
Perhaps an even more potentially lucrative scenario would be slotting it in the Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping at UFC 100 role behind the Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate co-main events at this December's UFC 168. For those who need a reminder, UFC 100 is still far and away the highest grossing pay per view in company history at 1,600,000 buys. While the bulk of that can be attributed to the hot feud between then-heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir plus a co-main event featuring GSP, the Henderson/Bisping match was at the very least a legit piece of the puzzle.
There's certainly an argument to be made Silva doesn't deserve PPV points based on the basement level 140,000 buys he and Rich Franklin drew in the main event of UFC 147, but I'm guessing a compromise can be reached that's satisfactory to both parties if there's enough public demand for this fight.
At 37 years old, and after countless wars, Silva isn't getting any younger. It's hard to blame him for trying to squeeze as much financial juice out of his remaining fights as possible. What's truly admirable here though is the way he has taken matters into his own hands and is trying to actively promote the biggest money fight available to him. It's a lesson many fighters who aren't happy with what they're earning would be wise to take note of.