(Editor’s note: Strong language is included.)
It’s February 2011, and I had already had a rather hectic last few months. First, I caught malaria (there have only been, like, 12 cases in the state of Rio in the last 20 years). It took a while until I got diagnosed correctly. Next thing I know, my son Bryan walks out into the rainforest and disappears. It took 60 men, two teams of dogs and a helicopter to find him. Then, a few weeks later, my home town of Nova Friburgo suffers the worst natural disaster in Brazilian history, when the region gets hit by nearly 16 inches of rain in 24 hours, causing multiple landslides and killing thousands.
So this is the backdrop as I head into “Bigfoot” vs. Fedor Emelianenko at Strikeforce, which was the biggest fight I had managed up to that point in my career. Based on my experiences over the previous few months, I probably should have known it would not be as easy as simply getting my guy up into the ring to fight!
[autotag]Antonio Silva[/autotag], best known as “Bigfoot,” has acromegaly, caused by a cyst on the pituitary gland. He is really at no greater or lesser risk of any brain injury than any other fighter. But the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board was doubly careful and made “Bigfoot” test for pretty much everything except rabies. With all the added scrutiny, “Bigfoot” was understandably very antsy as the fight was nearing, but we had no choice. I had to make him go through a multitude of extra tests if he wanted to compete.
So eventually, the New Jersey commission requests a special MRI. “Bigfoot” grumpily goes to have it done, and as he is coming back home, I get a call from the clinic saying he has to go back and do it again because he must have moved inside the MRI machine and some of the images get blurred. I call “Bigfoot” and tell him, and he hangs up on me and immediately stops responding to me.
I am still in Brazil, thousands of miles away from “Bigfoot.” After several unsuccessful attempts to get in contact with him and get him back to the clinic to repeat the test, I get hold of Andre Benkei, his coach, and ask him to go to Antonio’s house and find out what is up. Benkei gets there, and the blinds are all closed. Benkei bangs on the door until “Bigfoot” finally answers. He had turned off his phone, locked the doors and windows and decided he wasn’t going to fight anymore! Benkei talks to him about the opportunities he has with this fight, the biggest of his career and convinces him to go back to the clinic, where we were able to get the MRI done again.
For the next test the commission ordered, “Bigfoot” needed to urinate for a 24-hour period into a gallon jug and take the sample to the lab. A little odd, but “Bigfoot” does as he’s instructed. He then goes to take the urine to the lab, but he ends up getting into an argument with the staff! The poor guys is stressed out beyond all belief ahead of the biggest fight of his career, but we managed to get through it all – doing absolutely everything that New Jersey commission had asked.
So finally, it’s fight week, and we all head to New York to take care of all the media obligations for the final build-up to the fight. Here we are doing the promos and interviews and phots and everything, but we still had no answer from New Jersey commission on whether or not “Bigfoot” would actually be cleared to fight! And as the week dragged on, there was still no answer from them.
On Wednesday of fight week, just three days before “Bigfoot” was supposed to fight Fedor, I met with Rich Chou and Bob Cook. I was really worried at that point. I was beginning to wonder where I could run and hide if the commission decided not to clear “Bigfoot” to fight. So Wednesday afternoon, we are at one of the media sessions for the fight, and the athletic commission calls me and asks for the results of the urine test. I immediately called the lab, but they told me they cannot find the urine! Unbelievable.
There is simply nothing I can do at that point, other than to explain everyone what is happening. I was absolutely scared shitless at that moment. Wednesday then turns into Thursday, and finally, at around 11 a.m., the New Jersey commission calls Rich and tells him “Bigfoot” is cleared. One day before the weigh-ins, we finally know we’re going to be able to compete.
Now that was a suffered week, I can tell you.
So fight night comes, and “Bigfoot” puts on a stellar performance, taking Fedor down and absolutely mauling him on the ground. The doctors stop the fight before the start of the third round. Fedor’s eye was too bad, and he could not continue. After everything we had been through, this was a deserved reward.
After the fight, Renzo Gracie was backstage (Igor Gracie had fought on the undercard). Renzo came running up to me and says, “Alex, Alex! Those Russians came to the fucking party! They didn’t know they where coming with their asshole and we were coming with the dick!”
It’s is all happiness and celebrations for us.
At the post-fight presser, I remember Vadim Finkelstein saying that had there been a third round Fedor might have won the fight. I said, “You think so? OK! ‘Bigfoot’ graciously offers Fedor a rematch as soon as he wants.”
I had a feeling Fedor wouldn’t want to see “Bigfoot” on the other side of the cage for a while after that ass whipping.
Later, when we are all celebrating, someone called my attention to the fact that Fedor’s coach had gone to the media and said the we used “illegal psychic technology” to beat Fedor. I couldn’t let that one go without a response.
Overall, it was a great night, especially after a very difficult few months. And there is another part of this true story that is very worth telling: After the fight, Dr. Sherry Wulkan, the medical chief for the New Jersey commission came backstage to speak with me. She explained why she had requested “Bigfoot” get all those added tests done. She gets us together and tells us that she found indication in his tests that although he could fight, “Bigfoot” is showing indication that his acromegaly is getting worse, and that he needs to operate – if not, he won’t live for very long.
She saved his life!
We acted on her advice and got the operation done, and “Bigfoot” went on to get healthy and fight many more times. The rest, as they say, is history.
Alex Davis is a lifelong practitioner of martial arts and a former Brazilian judo champion. A founding member of American Top Team, Davis currently oversees the careers of a number of prominent Brazilian fighters, including Edson Barboza, Antonio Carlos Junior, Rousimar Palhares, Thiago “Marreta” Santos, Antonio Silva and Thiago Tavares, among others. Davis is a regular contributor to MMAjunkie, sharing his current views on the sport built through his perspectives that date back to the Brazilian roots of modern MMA.