(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
When Alex Davis first laid his eyes on 6-4 Antonio Silva, years before the fighter signed with the UFC, he saw an athlete with special physical tools.
What he soon would learn is that “Bigfoot” was in need of treatment for a potentially life-threatening condition.
“I found it out in his first fight in Japan,” Davis told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “The promoters there asked for an MRI, and we found out. He did not know.”
Davis and Silva crossed paths in 2006, and the then-super-heavyweight fighter was five bouts into a professional career that included five first-round stoppages in his favor.
Davis thought the larger-than-life fighter had the skills to become a superstar in the sport and took a role as Silva’s manager.
Shortly after, Silva fought in Japan, and the prefight medical exam revealed an abnormality with the pituitary gland, known as acromegaly, in which tumors on the gland cause excessive creation of growth hormone in the body.
“I was ignorant about what acromegaly was,” Davis says. “I just saw a big guy with big extremities, but it never dawned on me what that was. So we talked to the Japanese doctors a little bit, and then I went deep into it and started looking into it.
“I started educating myself about it. Then we got into a doctor, and we’ve been treating it ever since in some way.”
If developed in teenage years, acromegaly results in a condition known as gigantism, which is associated with excess height. Because Silva developed it later in life, the Brazilian’s symptoms include pronounced growth of the hands, feet and skull, as well as a general thickening of the skin.
Silva, 33, has had surgery to remove the tumors around his pituitary gland and is on medication to prevent further complications.
“It was a successful operation, but still some of the cysts came back,” Davis says. “So we got him on a government program where he gets a monthly injection, and after he’s finished fighting he’ll need to probably go through radiotherapy or have further surgery.
“The thing is, if someone has acromegaly and does not treat it, it will lead to diabetes, heart problems — all kinds of problems. It will actually kill you. But if it’s taken care of, it will be fine.”
Silva’s condition has led to complications in his professional career. In 2008, in an apparent attempt to boost lagging testosterone levels caused by his condition, Silva and his team said, he ingested an over-the-counter supplement known as Novedex. He then tested positive for Boldenone, a banned substance usually used as a horse steroid.
Davis contends the failed result was a result of how Novedex metabolizes in the body.
“If we were going to give him a steroid, it wouldn’t be a horse steroid,” Davis says. “The truth is, he’s probably the only guy on the whole UFC roster who should actually be using testosterone-replacement therapy.”
But those days are behind, and Silva (18-4 MMA, 2-1 UFC) is scheduled to challenge UFC heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez (11-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) on Saturday in the UFC 160 main event at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET).
The bout is a rematch of their meeting a year ago in which Silva made his UFC debut but was quickly taken to the floor on an early kick and badly bloodied with strikes in the first round. Silva said it was a valuable lesson. He’s eager to correct his mistakes and especially fueled by a scar from that night.
“The first thing is the title. I want to win the title,” Silva said. “The second thing, every day I look in the mirror and I see a big cut on my face. I’m very angry at that.
“This time I trained with the same strategy I trained before. The problem then was my mind, my adrenaline, my nerves. I was very nervous. It was my first fight in the UFC. But I’m going to do the same thing as before, and I know I have the skills to win this fight.”
Oddsmakers have pegged Silva as a significant underdog, but that’s nothing new for him. After all, he was the underdog in previous signature wins against Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko, too, not to mention in his battle against the condition largely responsible for his nickname. In short, it’s a role that suits the challenger just fine.
“Cain’s a really top-level fighter. It’s a tough match,” Davis says. “He’s a great opponent from a great camp. It’s a very tough fight, but Bigfoot has proven that he can take tough fights and be the underdog and overcome. He has a perfect chance of winning this title.
“I think he’s really hungry, and if Cain gets complacent, Bigfoot is going to take it.”
For the latest on UFC 160, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.