Claudio Silva was a promising welterweight by the end of 2014, riding an 11-fight winning streak with eight finishes, when his life fell apart.
“Hannibal” debuted in the UFC in March of that year with wins over Brad Scott and Leon Edwards. He was then slated to fight once in 2015, matched up against Nordine Taleb, and once again in 2016, versus Siyar Bahadurzada, however injuries forced him out of both cards. Over that time, Silva dealt with an eye injury, had four foot surgeries after fracturing both feet, and also injured his biceps. He eventually found himself weighing 231 pounds and unable to do what he loved. It was a nightmare, and at one point no one thought Silva would ever return to the Octagon.
“I thought doctors had done something wrong during the foot surgery and had ended my life, that they had ended my career,” Silva told MMA Fighting. “I was in so much pain. I was walking back home from training one day and an old man stopped his car and asked if I wanted a ride because I appeared to be in so much pain.”
Silva was always confident that he would be able to return to the UFC, but watching the welterweight division move on without him wasn’t easy. Edwards, who lost a split decision to Silva back in November 2014, is now set to headline a UFC card opposite Donald Cerrone after winning five in a row, while Silva was stuck sitting on the sidelines.
“I felt like I was in jail, exiled,” Silva said. “I was in the best time of my career and I was forced to stop because of injuries. It was so frustrating to watch the UFC and not be able to fight that I started eating nonstop until I got to 231 pounds. Everyone thought I would never fight again. I was asked to stop fighting, and that gave me even more motivation to come back. I will make up for the time I lost. I want to fight twice more this year. I can’t wait to get to the top.”
After seeing the MMA fighter battle so much outside the cage, Silva’s family asked him to retire from competition and do something else with his life. No one expected — or wanted — him to ever put his gloves on again.
“Haters would mock me online, saying I was fat and that I would never fight again,” Silva said. “A man decided to sponsor me even though I was injured, and someone told him, ‘This guy is fat, he’s obese. Why are you sponsoring him?’ I was so angry, I started training really hard to come back, and that’s when I injured my biceps in 2016. I had to respect my body. An athlete never thinks he will get hurt, we always think we’re superheroes, but now I respect my body.”
Doctors told Silva that he needed surgery to repair his biceps injury, and he literally “threatened to beat up the doctors if they came close to me.” After “running away” from the hospital, the idea of not fighting again crossed Silva’s mind for the first time. He had a gym in London, where he was living for 11 years, and thought that teaching jiu-jitsu could be his future.
He was wrong.
“I was teaching but that didn’t make me happy,” Silva said. “Something was missing.”
Silva decided to lose weight and train as a professional fighter again, but he vowed to respect his body this time.
“Being in the UFC was the biggest dream of my life,” Silva said. “I got in the UFC and won two fights, but I want to continue. I don’t want to be that guy that got in there and won a couple of fights and that’s it. I want to fight for the belt. If I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that, I would have stopped a long time ago and done something else with my life.
“I want to fight, I want to break records. I missed that. I felt like I was dead, trapped, buried, I don’t know. I went through a nightmare. Maybe that nightmare made me appreciate everything I have. Everything happens for a reason, to teach you a lesson, and I learned it the toughest way possible.”
Silva will finally make his return to the Octagon at Sunday’s UFC Liverpool, taking on Taleb at the Echo Arena. Even though he hasn’t fought for such a long time, he explained, “my spirit was always there and I have no pressure over my shoulders.”
“I want to fight the toughest guys possible to prove I’m one of the best in the world,” Silva said of Taleb, who enters the card on a two-fight winning streak with victories over Oliver Enkamp and Danny Roberts. “The world doesn’t know me yet. It’s an important fight for me. I want to win more than I want to breathe and survive. He’s a really tough guy, and I wanted that instead of people saying I fought a nobody in my comeback fight.”
“It’s going to be a bad fight for him in every aspect of MMA,” he continued. “It’s going to be bad for him if he tries to trade with me, and it will be even worse if we go to the ground. I envision myself knocking him out, I envision myself submitting him. I want to win no matter how. I’m prepared to defeat him. I always go into a fight as the underdog and I always come out as the champion.”