When the lights went down and hit the speakers, you knew you were in for a treat. Anderson Silva is no longer in his prime, some question why he’s still fighting, but no matter what he decides to do next in his career, “The Spider” knows his surname will go on in the sport.
Sure, Silva is a common name in Brazil and the list of nasty Silvas is long and full of killers.
Gabriel Silva shares more than just a name, though.
On June 15, the son of Anderson and Dayane Silva entered a Muay Thai ring in California to prove he’s inherited some fighting skills in the DNA portion he got from his father.
Silva once reigned supreme among middleweights and was seen by many as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter to ever walk the face of the earth. Gabriel was only three when his father started his career with two wins in one night in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Now, decades later, he kicks off his own story in combat sports.
Four years after moving full time to California—and seriously looking at martial arts training as a possible career path—and just days away from turning 22 years of age, Gabriel made his Muay Thai debut in an 175-pound amateur bout, stopping Nick Navarro with punches in the second round.
Funny enough, even though his father had Muay Thai as his origins, and to this day is known for those deadly skills, Gabriel is more of a boxer. When Anderson was preparing to face Israel Adesanya earlier this year in the UFC, they decided it was time for Gabriel to give it a try and compete in some form of combat sport, and chose to do it under Muay Thai rules.
“It was awesome” Gabriel Silva says of the emotion of entering a ring for the first time. “It was a mix of different things because I grew up in this fighting environment. I’ve always watched my dad training, other fighters like Rogerio (Nogueira) and Rodrigo (Nogueira) training. I was always surrounded by that, so I absorbed everything I saw all this time to put in practice now. It was a very important moment in my life. I always had the dream of getting in there and experiencing everything my dad and others went through. That feeling is priceless.”
“The Spider” proudly posted footage of the contest on his social media, showing his son scoring a TKO finish in his first-ever appearance under the bright lights. After watching his father score 23 knockouts throughout his 45-fight career, Gabriel wanted a finish himself, but admits he didn’t really foresee one.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting the knockout because I didn’t want to wear myself out, didn’t want to let my emotions take control of the situation and get me tired,” Silva says. “I was very, very focused. I was talking to my coaches before the fight and they said, ‘Use your reach, keep the distance and stay calm. Do what you do best,’ and that’s what I did. I kept the distance and started to see some openings in his game. I threw a couple of combos that landed and knocked him down. When I dropped him a second time, his corner stopped the fight.”
The news of Silva’s win caught many by surprise since it completely flew under the radar. You’d imagine that having the son of a legend like Anderson Silva fighting for the first time would be marketed by the promotion or shared by the UFC fighter, but Gabriel chose to keep it a family secret.
“I wanted this moment to focus on myself and avoid any kind of distraction,” Silva says. “This is a one-way road for me and that’s why my family were the only people that knew about this fight. I didn’t even tell my friends about it. It was about me, to know for sure what it’s like.”
“The Spider” wasn’t in his corner, in the arena, or even in the country that night. In China for some movie business, Silva made sure to call his son to say how proud he was. On his Instagram page, he wrote “I saw a lot of me in you today.”
“Man, it’s thrilling (to read that) because it’s something that passed down from father to son, like a heritage,” Silva said. “It’s something really exciting. My dad is my hero not only as a (fighter), but as a father as well. To hear those words, man, it was priceless.”
Unless he’s pretty good at keeping things a secret, Silva’s next appearances won’t fly under the radar anymore. He’s still unsure what his next step will be, but an amateur boxing bout, a jiu-jitsu match, another amateur Muay Thai clash, or even an amateur MMA fight are all possibilities.
The goal, he explains, is to gain as much experience as possible before he makes the transition to professional MMA in 2021. A bit taller than his father at 6-foot-3, Gabriel expects to be a welterweight or middleweight when he makes the jump in 18 months or so.
Father and son duos are not that common in modern MMA, at least not in the upper echelon of the sport. Randy and Ryan Couture have competed in the UFC, Kron Gracie followed Rickson’s success in Japan before signing with the UFC, Antonio McKee and Bellator star A.J. McKee, and prospects like Khonry Gracie and Kevin Ferguson Jr. are trying to live up to their fathers’ names, Royce Gracie and Kimbo Slice.
When that move is finally official, Gabriel knows he will hear a lot of comparisons.
“That’s inevitable,” Silva says. “It’s like a target. I have a target on my back, but that’s normal. It has happened to many other people, too. My focus is on being myself. I don’t have to prove to others how good I am, if I’m better than that other person. I have to do the best I can do. That’s the beauty of the sport. You train, train and train, learn from other people, like I’ve learned from my dad and others, to go there and do my best.”
“I do see myself as champion. It’s inevitable,” he adds. “I envision that a lot. I meditate and see it clearly. It’s just a puzzle that I have to learn how to put the pieces together, learn how to get there. That’s the goal for me, to be my best version. I do see myself as a champion.”
If he does fight as a middleweight, Gabriel could try to claim the UFC belt his father called his own for so many years.
“In a perfect world, that would be cool,” he laughs.
“The Spider” turned 44 in April and has only won once over the last eight bouts. Since 2013, the veteran has experienced a serious leg fracture, multiple doping failures and a few surprising defeats. Silva continues to give mixed signals about retirement, and his son doesn’t rule out competing on the same card with him one day.
“I’ve always imagined that,” Silva says. “In a perfect world, it would be a beautiful way to close (his career), but I don’t know.”
While some fans and media encouraged the UFC legend to retire after the leg fracture in 2013—and even when Silva himself revealed that his wife and children tried to convince him to hang up his gloves—Gabriel was the dissonant voice.
“Man, I think I was the only one at home that encouraged him to continue,” Silva said with a laugh. “If you have energy and love this, if you still love what you do after almost 30 years doing it, I think you should continue. He’s had many injuries but never stopped going there and doing what he does, so I’ve always supported him. I think I’m the only one at home that tells him to continue if he has the strength to do it [laughs].
“If that fulls his heart and makes him happy, I think he has to do it.”
Gabriel still has a long way to go before dreams become reality in the sport. The 22-year-old has yet to prove his worth in a cage, but being part of a star-driven business and being the son of a legend like “The Spider” might shorten the road to a big promotion like the UFC.
The UFC doesn’t usually sign 1-0 or 2-0 fighters very often, it’s true, but Silva’s son? That’s a different scenario.
It would also be no surprise to see Bellator jumping on him as soon as he manifests interest in turning pro. For Gabriel, “Bellator or anywhere else, it doesn’t make the difference to me.”
“I don’t see it like, ‘Oh, because my dad was the best in UFC history I have to go there as well,’” Silva says. “In my head, I want to go there because the best athletes in the world are in the UFC. You want to shine and prove yourself among the best. That’s the goal in the UFC. To prove that I’m as good as my dad, that to me is… I wouldn’t say irrelevant, but it’s not something that crosses my mind. My dad built his history and now I have to build mine.
“Every time I go out for a run in the morning I remember this line I saw in a movie, a movie about a son that continued his father’s story: ‘The name will live forever.’ Even if not in the same way, with me doing the things he did, the name ‘Silva’ will continue in the sport. That’s my focus.”