NEW YORK -- Anderson Silva just stared. He didn't speak. Maybe he couldn't speak. After a few moments of silence he pulled a smartphone from his pocket and crouched low to find a good angle to take a photograph. He snapped a couple of shots, then went back to just gazing. He said not a word.
The former UFC middleweight champion was visiting the Sports Illustrated offices in midtown Manhattan for an appearance on the SI Now show. He had mentioned during our interview that he'd been inspired, early in his fighting career, by the style and movement of Muhammad Ali. So on the way out of the building we detoured to a hallway lined with glassed-in cases of sports memorabilia from the magazine's six decades.
Silva went right to the display devoted to Ali. There were several SI covers, of course, as well as assorted photos. There was a white boxing robe with black trim. A pair of red Everlast gloves. Silva took this all in as if he were a patron uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The man often cited as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time was like a child as he stood there. Silva stared for a while, then asked if he could have his picture taken. He posed in front of the Ali display case, thumbs up, a smile spread across his face. A little boy's smile.
Minutes earlier, Silva had spent a few minutes on camera, talking about where his career is headed in the wake of last month's stunning loss to Chris Weidman, his first defeat in seven years. After the cameras and lights were shut off, I asked the 38-year-old Brazilian to speak about some of the significant figures in his life.
António Rodrigo Nogueira:
"Oh, this is my big friend. Rodrigo and I have a great history. Rodrigo helped me for fights. Rodrigo is part of my family. Rodrigo is my brother. Rodrigo is a great guy not just for me, for all the guys training on Team Nogueira. We love Rodrigo because he is the big dad. I love Rodrigo."
"I respect Dana. Sometimes I have problems, me and Dana. But I love Dana. Dana is a great, great man, working hard for this sport, a big one in the world now. The UFC is a big family. Dana has done a lot of work to change the life of the people. This sport saved my life, saved the life of all the fighters. I need to say thank you, Dana, because Dana is a great man.
"Sometimes I see on my phone it's my manager, Ed [Soares], sometimes Dana, and I say, 'Oh, it's a special mission for me, one more time. I need to go.' Sometimes Dana and [CEO] Lorenzo [Fertitta] talk to me: 'Anderson, you are the inspiration for a lot of kids. A lot of people are watching you. You need to keep straight your focus inside the octagon, because the people come to see you.'
"Sometimes you have a good strategy, you have good focus. Sometimes your focus is a little lost. This is normal. It's the business. I understand Dana sometimes does not like my performance. I respect Dana's opinion, and Lorenzo and [matchmaker] Joe Silva. These guys gave me the chance to fight in the UFC. All the time I train, train, train because I like my work."
"Chael is a good man. One day Chael did not respect the people in Brazil. But this is normal. Sometimes you need to promote a fight. But in my opinion, Chael's promotions lose control. He talked of the people of Brazil. Talked of my wife. This is bad. This is a sport. But Chael is a good guy, a good man. And in my opinion Chael is working hard to be the new President of the United States. He has a big chance."
"Oh, he's a good boy, a good man. A great story. I'm very happy about my first fight with Chris, because Chris is a good man. He has a good family and a good story. Keep straight your focus. I am 38 years old, and Chris is the kid, starting his career. He has a chance to change the history of MMA. I like Chris. I respect Chris. I am going for the rematch, but I respect Chris because Chris is a good boy."
Roy Jones Jr.:
"Oh! This is my big dream for a long time, to fight in boxing against Roy Jones Jr. I watched him for a long time, and I talked to my dad: 'Dad, look at this guy. He's perfect. He's the best boxer in the world.' I talked to my dad and my friends: 'Hey, one day I am going to fight this guy, because this is the great, great, great, great goal in my life, in sports, to fight Roy Jones Jr.'
"Roy Jones is different. I like the style and the movement. Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali are the inspiration for my style of fighting. I love Roy Jones Jr. I respect Mr. Roy Jones. But my big dream is to fight Roy Jones. Maybe one day, I don't know. I need you to talk to Dana to give me the chance for this one, because this is my dream. I will be a complete man, a complete athlete with a fight with Roy Jones Jr."