UFC 139 preview: Silva vs. Le

Wanderlei Silva (31-11-1) vs. Cung Le (7-1)

While 205-pound legends Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua collide in the main event, one of the most storied light heavyweights of all time competes in his third middleweight bout against a former Strikeforce champion.

Silva, 35, could be forced into retirement unless he turns in a memorable outing. Following the Brazilian’s first-round knockout loss to Chris Leben at UFC 132 in July, UFC president Dana White has repeatedly stated that it might be time for “The Axe Murderer” to hang it up.

However, the former Chute Boxe poster boy is still adamant that there is fight left in him. Silva recently returned from an extended layoff due to broken ribs, which could have negatively impacted his performance against Leben.

The Wand Fight Team founder, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, has built his legacy on a fan-friendly fighting style as he charges recklessly at his opponents with wild looping punches. His approach has improved in recent years, however, with Silva also reuniting with his former Chute Boxe head coach Rafael Cordeiro at Kings MMA.

Silva’s technique could make a traditional Thai boxing coach cringe, but its effectiveness is undeniable. Some of his 33 career victims include Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Keith Jardine and Michael Bisping.

With only two wins in his last eight bouts, losing is not an option for Silva, who possesses considerably more experience than his adversary, particularly against top-ranked opposition.

Le, 39, started his MMA journey in 2006 after amassing a perfect 16-0 professional kickboxing record. The traditional San Shou practitioner has done pretty well for himself, stopping Frank Shamrock to win the Strikeforce middleweight title in March 2008 and avenging his only loss to Scott Smith with a second-round knockout in June 2010.

The Vietnamese-born American Kickboxing Academy product dazzles audiences with a multitude of flashy kicks and backfists, generally unconventional techniques for mixed martial arts.

If Silva’s chin is indeed suffering the effects of years of careless brawling against considerably larger opponents, Le can capitalize. But Le’s style relies more on an accumulation of damage rather than a single knockout blow, which could play into the Brazilian’s hands.

While Le will need to systematically break Silva down with his speed and kicks, “The Axe Murderer” needs just one furious combination to end the fight.

If Silva stays true to his classic fighting style and charges Le with a barrage of punches, he’ll likely overwhelm the late MMA bloomer and spoil his UFC debut early.

Verdict: Silva via KO, Round 1