LAS VEGAS – Months of work, hours of poring over film, long days of torturing his body, preparing for the biggest fight of his life, was rendered useless in 15 seconds.
Antonio Silva was down on his back and split open by a Cain Velasquez elbow between the eyes that instantly began gushing blood.
When the fight was stopped three minutes, 36 seconds after it began with Velasquez the one-sided winner, Silva looked as if a madman had hacked him in the face with a meat cleaver.
It wasn't the cut, or the blood, or the pain from the punches and elbows that Velasquez pummeled him with that bothered Silva so much. He knew what he was in for when he signed the contract for the fight.
What he didn't expect, though, was that only seconds after the bell sounded, against arguably the greatest heavyweight in the world, he'd be essentially blind and unable to see shots coming at him.
Velasquez is a fearsome opponent for any man, let alone one whose sight is not just blurred but almost entirely gone. That, though, was the situation Silva was in during his UFC debut against Velasquez almost exactly one year ago.
"You're almost helpless when you can't [see]," Silva said.
There was so much blood that Velasquez looked as if he'd been sprayed with a hose with it. He was in Silva's guard virtually the entire fight and every punch, every elbow, splattered blood all over his body.
By the time it was over, it looked like a scene from an Abdullah the Butcher versus The Original Sheik pro wrestling match.
A year later, Silva will meet Velasquez again, this time on Saturday in the main event of UFC 160 with the heavyweight belt on the line at the MGM Grand Garden.
It's remarkable that Silva, left battered, beaten and bloodied in one of the most brutal bouts in UFC history, is back and on the verge of the championship.
Junior dos Santos, the former UFC heavyweight champion and Silva's close friend, never doubted his buddy. At a luncheon a few months ago, Silva was asked about the improbability of getting the rematch so quickly. Before Silva could formulate an answer, dos Santos jumped in.
"He is a real fighter and I knew that one way or another, he would find a way to get back," dos Santos said.
Silva did it by scoring back-to-back upsets. He first beat Travis Browne in a bout that was essentially designed to be a springboard toward stardom and title contention for Browne.
But Silva, whose nickname "Bigfoot" ought to be changed to "Big Hands" because his fists are the size of canned hams, blasted Browne with a crushing right, then finished him with a series of lefts.
Then came the grudge fight against Alistair Overeem at UFC 156 in February. Overeem all but mocked Silva in the build-up to the fight and promised a dominant win.
But after dropping the first two rounds, Silva exploded in the third and knocked out Overeem. Improbably, in less than a year, he was back in the title picture.
Even in the darkest times in the moments after the fight with Velasquez, Silva never lost the belief that he could do something special in the fight game.
"I made a mistake [against Velasquez]," he said. "I made a big mistake. It's not good to throw a low kick against a wrestler. I had nerves and I didn't stick to the plan that I had worked on. But he took me down and cut me and I couldn't see, right in the first 30 seconds of the bout.
"He deserves a lot of credit for winning the fight, and I have great respect for him. But I also knew that I didn't have the chance to show what I could do."
It's a pretty fair guess that Silva won't throw a low kick at Velasquez this time, particularly not four or five seconds after the opening bell.
And though Velasquez is a minus-600 favorite at the MGM Grand sports book, Silva is unswayed. He's worked hard on his striking and takes solace in the fact that he never got to test Velasquez's chin.
Velasquez has gone down from strikes in the past – several times, in fact, during a win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99 – and Silva believes that striking could be the difference for him.
"He's going to encounter my fists," Silva says defiantly. "The way he fights, I don't have to go after him. He comes after me. Once he eats one, two, three punches, that's going to change the whole thing."
Really, though, it's not his improvement in striking or the work he's done with ex-U.S. Olympic wrestler Steve Mocco that will be the biggest difference in Saturday's bout, he says.
Rather, it's going to be that, barring another major error, he's going to be able to see for more than 15 seconds.
The great boxer, Muhammad Ali, once famously said in rhyme, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can't hit what your eyes can't see."
Silva learned that lesson oh so painfully a year ago. He was essentially blinded and forced to absorb a harsh beating. But with his vision intact for the second go-round, he looks to complete an improbable 12-month journey.
"I don't know if a lot of people thought I would be here [a year after] the first [Velasquez] fight," Silva said. "I lost that fight, but I never lost my belief in myself."
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