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‘It felt like the world went upside-down’ - UFC vets share experiences fighting Wanderlei Silva

Decorated UFC veterans Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin and Chris Leben talk about fighting “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva.

UFC on FUEL TV: Silva v Stann Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Back in his prime years, Wanderlei Silva struck fear in many of his opponents. Even some of the most skilled names in the game weren’t exempt in feeling the intimidation brought on by a fight against “The Axe Murderer.”

In a recent episode of the MMA TRUFAN podcast series, UFC veterans Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz, and Chris Leben all shared their stories when they faced Silva. All three came out victorious, but their experiences sharing the cage with one of the most violent fighters of all-time were noteworthy.

Franklin, who defeated Silva twice in 2009 and 2012, admitted he was already left daunted during the staredowns.

“Once you get onto the inside, it’s like you stepped into a blender in the kitchen and the blender just turned on,” Franklin recalled (transcript via MMA Mania). “When we did our staredowns for the press conferences, for the weigh-ins, the first-time we ever did a staredown I remember thinking to myself, ‘he didn’t disappoint. It’s still intimidating.’”

Leben was already an accomplished veteran when he faced Silva in 2011. For him, being pitted against one of his heroes was both mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time.

“The Crippler” did end up with a knockout victory in less than 30 seconds.

“Wanderlei was a hero of mine. I idolized the way he fought,” Leben said. “He was so aggressive, so savage, so overwhelming. Vicious, vicious, especially in those Pride years. Standing in that ring when all the lights go out and Zombie Nation comes on. I look over and he’s doing his f—king wrist thing. I’m like, ‘what the f—k was I thinking? I asked for this s—t?’ You know?

“Unreal... That was one of those fights where I really got lucky,” he added. “I was scared to death. I didn’t think I was going to win. I really just wanted to fight Wanderlei because he was a hero of mine.”

Ortiz fought Silva in 2005, a bout in which he won the then vacant UFC light heavyweight title. While he did achieve his ultimate goal, it didn’t happen without experiencing a world of pain.

“I swear he hit me so hard it felt like the world went upside-down,” Ortiz recounted. “He was one of the hardest hitting guys I’ve ever been hit by. What I felt scared me. That was the first time I’ve ever really been hit.

“Where it hit me, it scared me.... That was one punch that I felt when it hit me, it scared the s—t out of me. I went into recovery mode — do-or-die mode. To run away was my first instinct.

“If you watched that fight, I ran away to the opposite side of the Octagon. He came chasing after me,” he added.

Silva, now 43, hasn’t competed since September 2018 when he was stopped by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in their fourth fight at Bellator 206. In 2019, he revealed that his health was on a decline, while also bearing plans of donating his brain for CTE research.