Josh Gross
Saturday January 2nd, 2010

Thiago Silva and 19 of his compatriots spent Thursday evening avoiding the New Year. Forget champagne. The 27-year-old Brazilian light heavyweight was in the final stages of preparing his body for the penance of weigh-ins at the MGM Grand for UFC 108 in Las Vegas.

There wouldn't be any celebrating, he said. Not until the following night.

Scheduled to meet Rashad Evans (13-1-1) in the main event of Zuffa LLC's first pay-per-view of the new decade, the Brazilian fell asleep weighing 207 pounds -- right where he should be, he said an hour before the ball dropped in New York City -- thanks to the discipline that comes with "having objectives and staying focused on them."

In Silva's case, the goal is fairly simple: earn a shot at the UFC light heavyweight belt currently held by Lyoto Machida, who also happens to be responsible for his and Evans' only losses.

First, he must contend with "Suga" Rashad, an explosive former champion who surrendered the title to Machida last May. During the run-up to Saturday's pay-per-view (10 p.m. ET), Silva (14-1) spoke of his willingness to kill or be killed in the cage. It's an awful sentiment, yet one he makes freely and embraces. It is also straight out of the quote book from his "hero," Brazilian legend Wanderlei Silva. As any young fighter who had the privilege of training with and knowing "The Axe Murderer" during his dominant run in Pride could tell you, the elder Silva not only exhibited that "kill or be killed" attitude religiously upon entering professional MMA in 1996, he was its biggest proponent.

At the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil, Wanderlei passed down other lessons to Thiago: train hard; take your job seriously; when it's time to fight, do so aggressively; and never leave anything in reserve. Thiago understood these principles as more than just words. They were part of a heralded fighter's blueprint on how to become one. To his credit, Thiago recognized there was more than one route to greatness. Yes, the principles worked, but the path had to be his own.

"Wanderlei is a wild dog. Thiago is not like that," said Alex Davis, the younger Silva's manager and Portuguese-to-English interpreter. "Thiago is much more concentrated, a much more tunnel-vision type of guy."

Since the fight with Evans, 30, was signed last October, Silva's gaze has been affixed on the former champion. Through no fault of his own -- namely Quinton Jackson's decision to walk away from their bout at UFC 107 to film a theatrical version of The A-Team -- Evans has waited longer than he might have liked to shed the feeling of getting knocked out. His ability to cope with that anxiety could go a long way in determining Saturday's winner.

"A lot of guys never get over something like that," said Davis, who began working with Silva when the fighter departed Chute Boxe for Coconut Creek, Fla., and American Top Team. "Emotionally it really, really hurts them. I was very worried about Thiago. But everybody saw how he managed to surpass that with what he did against Keith Jardine. So now he's much stronger emotionally. Right now he's handling it extremely well. He's not getting caught up in it. There's a lot more hype on Rashad than on him."

Seven months after Machida finished Silva with punches, the fire-throwing Brazilian needed only 95 seconds to recover and similarly do Jardine. "I knew I had to win," said Silva, who just now is entering the prime of his career.

Evans must surely feel the same on the eve of UFC 108, making the main event of a card decimated by injuries one worth watching.

Side-by-side comparisons reveal little in the way of significant advantages or weaknesses.

Neither man's Brazilian jiu-jitsu game should be underestimated; Silva comes in wearing a black belt, and Evans has shown a ton of ability there as well.

On the feet, their styles clash nicely: Silva, the aggressive Muay Thai practitioner, against Evans, the quick, heavy-handed counter-striker.

Evans is a better pure wrestler, but Silva's size and grappling, particularly in the clinch, are very effective.

The bout could conceivably take them anywhere, though if action hits the canvas the one who manages top control would find an edge since both deliver heavy ground-and-pound.

Silva said he will step into the cage ready for the "moment when I have the time to take an opportunity. Rashad is a tough guy. He's very good. He's held the title. He lost the same way I lost. It's going to be a good fight."

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