UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva says he doesn't pay much attention to the media. He's too busy training.
He does, however, pay attention enough to know the hopes placed on his shoulders -- by his coaches, the UFC, and his fans. They want his best, and they want it every time.
By most estimates, he's the pound-for-pound king, and if not, in the top three of the sport's greats. In his division, he's an undisputed world-beater.
But he's human, and the best is not always possible. After taking his time -- many would say too much time -- trying to break down Patrick Cote at UFC 90, his fourth title defense came to a screeching halt at the hands of injury. Cote got broken on his own.
For those weaned on his quick destructions, it was a jarring experience that spurred questions about how motivated he was to finish fights where he was clearly in control.
But Silva believes he caused -- or at least was a major contributor to -- the ending of the fight that night in Chicago.
"I believe in this fight what we trained was done in the fight," said Silva through translator/manager Ed Soares during a media teleconference for this Saturday's UFC 97 in Montreal, Canada. "I kicked him pretty well in the second round, which I think led to his knee popping out in the third, and that's the way the fight goes sometimes. You can think about how you'd like the fight to end, and how you'd like the fight to go, but it doesn't always work out that way in a fight. My technique, and everything I trained, I executed in the fight."
While it's true that Silva went back to his locker room at the Allstate Arena and sparred a few more rounds, it wasn't just to blow off steam, as the pre-fight hype for UFC 97 indicates.
"It was because we trained to fight five rounds, so our muscle memory and our body is used to utilizing the full five rounds," said Silva. "If the fight would have ended in the first round, then I probably would have went back there and done another four or five rounds, but it ended in the third, so I went and finished off my two other rounds."
The way he sees it, Cote did not take the fight from him, and the fight's ending was an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of a highly unpredictable sport.
"Redemption" is the theme of UFC 97, and he's one of a trio of fighters, along with Chuck Liddell and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the organization believes is driven to re-gain the trust of fans. He's never been the pay-per-view draw of Liddell, but until UFC 90, his knockout power was a sure bet.
To critics who believe his dominance of the middleweight division has bred complacency, he counters that the expectations of others continue to motivate him. When he fights fellow Brazilian Thales Leites on Saturday as a massive favorite, he'll take them into the cage.
"On the contrary to what people think, I was very, very motivated for the Patrick Cote fight," he said. "My motivation is to be one of the best mixed martial arts fighters of all time. With Thales, I'm very motivated for this fight, because everyone is always mentioning that I'm best pound-for-pound here or there, or one of the best fighters in the world. And having that type of label on me makes me very motivated. It motivates me to show my coaches and the world everything that I've trained to do in a fight."
While Leites might not have been at the top of fans' lists as his next challenger, Silva is taking the challenge very seriously. As a jiu-jitsu specialist, Leites' ground skills are looked at as the only weapon that could put a chink in his armor, and he plans on proving once again he's a total fighter.
He won't promise perfection, but feels confident his best will show on Saturday in Montreal.
"Thales Leites has obviously shown his performance and shown to the world that he deserves the title shot. He's a very tough fighter, very well-rounded, very good on the ground," said Silva. "But I feel that I'm very well prepared for this fight. I've trained very hard, and I'm going to give it my all. The most important thing is for us to go out there and put on a good performance to the world, and the most important thing, whether I win or lose, is that this belt is gonna stay in Brazil."