The doctor who performed the surgery on Anderson Silva‘s broken leg believes the former champion could one day fight again – and that appears to be what is on Silva’s mind, as well.
Dr. Steven Sanders, the UFC’s orthopedic surgeon, on Monday said Silva’s recovery should be one that could have him fighting again if he chooses to. And in fact, before surgery, Silva was thinking about when he might be able to return.
“In the pre-op area, his question was, ‘When can I train?’” Sanders said. “And he asks every time I see him on my rounds – ‘When can I train?’ – and I always indicate to him he should be able to train. It’s important to be positive with your patient.”
Silva (33-6 MMA, 16-2 UFC), widely regarded as the greatest fighter in MMA history, broke his left tibia and fibula in the main event of UFC 168 this past Saturday. The Brazilian was attempting to regain the middleweight title he lost to Chris Weidman in July, when he was knocked out for the first time in MMA and suffered the first loss of his UFC career.
In the second round of the rematch, Silva threw an inside leg kick that Weidman lifted his left leg to check. Silva’s left shin made contact with the inside of Weidman’s left knee, and the result was one of the most gruesome injuries in MMA history.
Silva left MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on a stretcher to the shock of fans in attendance – many of which had traveled from Brazil to see one of that country’s national sporting heroes. Sanders said he placed an titanium rod in Silva’s leg to stabilize his tibia, and his fibula was reset. Sanders said the surgery took about an hour with Silva under general anesthesia.
“We’re not even 48 hours from the surgery, and tibia fractures, though we can get them to heal, can have a slower healing,” Sanders said. “My prognosis for healing is three to six months. But there are also soft tissue components that have to heal. If I had to make a guess less than 48 hours from the operation, it would be the fracture healing in three to six months, and attempting to train, six to nine months.”
Sanders told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie there was nothing to indicate that the bones in Silva’s leg may have been weakened prior to the kick that broke it. Silva’s fighting style has long been one that involves kicks, and although he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he is best known for his muay Thai and kickboxing.
“As an orthopedic surgeon, when any injury occurs, we like to know that it’s from the trauma and not from some unsuspected underlying condition,” he said. “From the x-rays, I looked at the character of the bone to see if there was any predisposition to why it would break. Obviously, he’s been training and competing most of his life. There was no apparent predisposing pathology in that bone that would have led to this particular event occurring at that time.”
Sanders, who said his relationship with the UFC goes back to the promotion’s purchase by Zuffa, LLC, performed the surgery at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, a Level I trauma center, where Silva remains as he starts his recovery process.
Sanders said Silva already is attempting to walk with crutches in the hospital, and that as his pain starts to minimize, Silva will start to test out how much pressure he can put on his leg as it begins to heal.
Although to the laymen watching the fight, seeing Silva’s leg snap and bend in such an unnatural way may have seemed about as bad as it could get, Sanders said things always could be worse.
“In terms of the severity of the injury, it was fairly severe,” said Sanders, who called the injury one that trends toward being “unique” in his line of work. “But I can give examples of worse-case scenarios of what could have happened. The skin could’ve broken, which would have dramatically increased the chance of infection. He could have torn a blood vessel, which would hurt blood flow to the foot.”
Silva started his UFC career 16-0 an won the promotion’s middleweight title in his second fight in the company. He held it for nearly seven years until his loss to Weidman in July. Until that point, he was regarded as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.
With two losses in a row for the first time, and now a lengthy recovery process if he’s to fight again, questions have arisen as to what the UFC will do without one of its most bankable stars – after its top draw, Georges St-Pierre, vacated his welterweight title earlier this month to walk away indefinitely.
But UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein said that’s not something on his mind right now.
“We’ve got more than 400 fighters under contract and a lot of amazing champions,” he said. “Anderson Silva is a special guy, and we’ll never try to replace someone like him. But the most important thing is he makes a speedy recovery. … My first concern was, let’s make sure we take care of Anderson.”
For complete coverage of UFC 168, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.