LAS VEGAS – For many years, Wanderlei Silva was regarded the same way at Zuffa headquarters that Derek Jeter is at Fenway Park.
UFC president Dana White, who for years had been eager to see Chuck Liddell knock Silva unconscious, makes no bones about his feelings toward the man who was the face of the rival PRIDE Fighting Championship.
"He was my enemy," White says unhesitatingly.
No longer is that true, however. Because on any given day, White will saunter downstairs from his office into the tiny gym located in the bowels of UFC headquarters to find Silva preparing for his fight with Keith Jardine at UFC 84 on May 24.
They greet each other with an embrace and a smile and while away the time discussing their mutual passion for mixed martial arts.
Silva is such a fan of the sport, he said he's pleading with White to make a match between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who currently are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the Yahoo! Sports poll of the world's best fighters.
"If Dana can make that fight, I'll be in the line to buy a ticket," Silva said, beaming. "What a great fight. I am a fighter, yes. It is my job, and it is a job I love. But before I'm a fighter, I am a fan. I love this sport."
And that's why White has fallen for Silva the way a high school football star might for a sultry cheerleader.
White is making money, and lots of it, in the UFC, but it's a double bonus to him because he's indulging his passion.
"The reason I got into this (expletive) in the first place is because I love it so (expletive) much," White said. "Part of the way I run the company is from a fan's perspective. If I want to see a fight as a fan, then I know it's a fight that we should make and that's what I do.
"Well, Wanderlei is the same way. You see the passion he has for this sport. He told me once that he'd rather lose a fight and have the fans going crazy instead of winning a fight where the people are booing. That's the kind of guy I want in my company fighting on my shows."Link