Once upon a time, Wanderlei “the Axe Murderer” Silva, was seen by many as the embodiment of everything that was right with MMA.

A fighter who never failed to put on a show, Silva marched through the ranks of Pride fighters with both skill and violence, fighting and defeating some of the greatest names in that promotion in brutal fashion. His fights against some of the top names in the sport, like a young “Rampage” Jackson were prime time affairs.

However, Pride, as an organization, was not exactly viewed as the most squeaky clean of businesses. Rumors and accusations of fixed draws in tournaments, questionable p.e.d. testing practices, mob ties and fixed fights have always run rampant in regards to Pride. While some of the finger pointing might be dismissed as outlandish and patently false, the sheer volume of charges leveled against the promotion makes for a legitimate, “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” argument. Incidentally, a lot of the accusations pointed to Silva being the recipient of favorable treatment, and being a darling of mobsters who liked to bet on him.

Eventually, Silva made his way to the UFC. Familiar to hardcore MMA fans who had followed his career in Pride, he was introduced to a much wider audience, and with the benefit of the marketing expertise and global expansion of the UFC, Silva enjoyed even more exposure and endorsements. Silva was still a fan favorite, as he always seemed to give everything he had in every UFC fight that he was involved in. Silva’s heart in the octagon was never ever questioned. However, Silva’s exit from the UFC, and from competition in MMA, was mired in scandal and controversy. The last straw was an occurrence in which Silva literally ran from a drug test. He physically fled, rather than submit to a urine test. No matter how he has tried to spin that incident after the fact, common sense dictates that there would really only be one reason that a professional athlete would run away from that type of situation. Since that turn of events, which led to him being banned by the UFC and the Nevada Athletic Commission, Silva has engaged in what he characterizes as a righteous war against the exploitation and marginalization of fighters within the UFC.

He has cast himself in the role of Don Quixote, jousting the windmills of injustice that Dana White has erected. He has positioned himself as a champion of the fighters, fighting against the evil empire of the UFC, claiming that the fighters have had everything to do with the growth and success of the sport, and that White has just been along for the ride, reaping the rewards of all the fighters’ hard work. The problem is that most of his rhetoric comes across as the rantings of a petulant teenager who got caught doing something wrong, rather than someone who is genuinely interested in the welfare of all MMA fighters.

The worst part about that is that Silva raises some valid points, but those points are overshadowed by outrageous and patently false diatribes he seems to love posting on social media. By any objective standard, the majority of UFC fighters are underpaid relative to the revenue and merchandise sales that they help the UFC generate, and the job security of most of the fighters is tenuous at best. Although to be fair, each and every single professional athlete in every sport is in a performance based profession where winning, and abiding by the rules and regulations of that sport and it’s respective governing bodies, are the only way to guarantee career longevity.

However, it is an inarguable fact that those fighters who are at the top of the UFC have gained name recognition and earning power that was unimaginable ten years ago. The UFC has succeeded in doing what no other MMA promotion had ever been able to do. They have made MMA a mainstream sport, no longer operating on the fringes of the sports landscape.Big fight cards are now featured as the lead story on sports networks like ESPN, which was inconceivable before Dana White and the Fertitta brothers took over the UFC, which was floundering when they first assumed control.

As a result of their business moves, the value of the UFC, and by association, the Madison Avenue earning power of it’s stars, have increased exponentially. While MMA superstars of ten years ago were limited to endorsement contracts with companies that dealt specifically with MMA gear or related merchandise, like nutritional supplements, the UFC stars of today like Conor McGregor and, before his legal troubles, Jon Jones, are marketable on a whole other level. And then there’s Ronda Rousey. Ronda Rousey has redefined the branding potential of elite UFC fighters. Whether it’s appearing on screen with the likes of Sylvester Stallone or the Rock, or being featured in commercials for jeans, cellular carriers or national burger chains, Rousey’s crossover marketability is a whole new level of name recognition for an MMA fighter. Against this backdrop of increased popularity of the sport, Silva’s claims that White and the UFC are destroying the sport ring incredibly hollow. What has changed in MMA in the last ten years? There have always been skilled and charismatic fighters out there, but the sport was marginalized in the United States, and virtually unheard of in innumerable other countries across the globe. Thanks to the efforts of the UFC to expand their brand internationally, there is more opportunity across the world for aspiring combatants to make a living as an MMA fighter.

However, even as one must recognize that White has been behind great strides in the sport as far as exposure, the UFC’s recent decision to partner with Reebok would seem to be a huge misstep. Even as White attempts to compare the strategy of partnering with an individual sporting apparel manufacturer to the marketing decisions of professional leagues like the NFL, he is leaving out one key component. The NFL has a players union and collective bargaining power that is lacking for UFC fighters. The comparison is fatally flawed. The model upon which the UFC should be basing their marketing and merchandising decisions SHOULD be NASCAR. While there are universal standards applied to each and every driver and driving team within NASCAR, the individual drivers and racing teams can still negotiate their own advertising and merchandising contracts, as long as they are within the parameters of NASCAR’s rules and guidelines.

So, here we find an element of legitimacy to Silva’s claim that the UFC could be doing more for it’s fighters. But until Silva recognizes that there has been a great deal of good to go along with bad, he remains a caricature of that which he portends to be. Oh, and one other thing. Silva is notoriously biased towards Brazilian fighters. Not that he has to behave any differently, he is certainly free to cheer for whomever he wants to. But extreme biases can always complicate the perception of an individual who is representing themselves as an objective observer in any debate. And for all the rhetoric about being a champion of fighters’ rights, he diminishes and denigrates certain fighters that he doesn’t like. His opinions and caustic comments about Conor McGregor further destroy his credibility. He seems to bear a grudge against McGregor for the heretofore unheard of level of fame and fortune that McGregor has reached in such a short period of time, and/or has the potential to amass in the future, and for smack talking a Brazilian (Jose Aldo). This again, comes across as childish and an exhibition of unabashed partiality.

So, in the final analysis, we see that Silva may or may not truly believe the rhetoric he is spouting. His claims that the UFC is essentially akin to professional wrestling, and that he has proof of fight fixing, come across as whining until he can present some concrete evidence that what he’s saying is legitimate. If Silva truly is this altruistic figure who isn’t simply acting out against the UFC for catching him cheating, then bring the evidence forward. Prove that White, the Fertitta brothers and the whole of the UFC is crooked. Bring down the, “evil empire,” that you claim the UFC to be. You would be hailed as a hero, and go down as a historic figure for fighters’ rights. White and anyone involved in the UFC who was engaged in that type of illegal activity would facing legal troubles that would not be insignificant in their depth and breadth. But therein lies the problem.

If Silva had that kind of damaging proof, he would have come forward with it by now. With the level of enmity he obviously holds towards the UFC and White, and his constant presence on social media, it would be out there by now. Unfortunately, with each and every childish rant, Silva further diminishes his legacy. It is truly sad too, because in his heyday, he was one of the best. Instead, he may be remembered as a cheater who threw a sustained tantrum that ultimately amounted to little more than a bunch of posts on Twitter and Facebook, which would be a tragic end to a truly exceptional career as a fighter.

About The Author

Brian Nakanishi
Staff Writer

Brian Ricardo Nakanishi lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but is originally from Miami, Florida, and has lived in various places across the United States and Japan. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Brian first became interested in MMA with the highly publicized Ortiz-Shamrock fights, and has been hooked ever since. A writer, actor and filmmaker, Brian loves enjoying the great outdoors in Colorado, travelling, football, filmmaking, and is still mourning the end of Breaking Bad.