Bruno Machado: 'It was a dream to fight Anderson Silva in Abu Dhabi - I'm so grateful'

UAE Warriors lightweight champion took on UFC great in rearranged exhibition boxing bout at Etihad Arena

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Irrespective of the uncertainty of the build-up, or the black eye today that sits below the cut on the eyebrow above, Bruno Machado is still pinching himself.

“Saturday was magical,” says the Brazilian, a few days removed from his weekend of all weekends, when he went eight rounds with UFC great Anderson Silva in an exhibition boxing event in Abu Dhabi.

“It was amazing, brother. He’s my hero … my hero. I’m a big fan of his. It was amazing for me to have a chance to test my skills against him. I’m not a boxer, I’m a jiu-jitsu guy, come from a jiu-jitsu background, and I did eight rounds against Anderson Silva. Can you imagine? Incredible.”

To be fair, Machado is not just any old jiu-jitsu guy. A long-time Abu Dhabi resident, the Brazilian resides currently as the UAE Warriors lightweight champion, while during his day job he teaches jiu-jitsu in the military.

So, he represented a justifiable pick to go up against Silva, his compatriot and long-time friend, when the inaugural Global Titans event was booked for May 14, on the Burj Al Arab helipad in Dubai, with Floyd Mayweather, the former five-weight world boxing champion, headlining.

However, the event was postponed because of the death of UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa, and then seemingly rescheduled and then apparently called off once more. It left Machado, 35, unsure if he would ever get the opportunity that he wilfully labels the chance of a lifetime.

Then, last Friday, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi announced that same card – in all, there were four bouts planned – would take place in the capital instead, at Etihad Arena, the following day.

For Machado, who had some time ago brought from Brazil a coach and a sparring partner especially to train for Silva, his moment would finally arrive. Thus, less than 48 hours after confirmation, he was walking out at an impressively busy Etihad Arena to go toe-to-toe with the man he describes his hero.

“I have to say thank you so much to the Abu Dhabi government to handle this event,” Machado said. “They did a great job. If they didn’t have this attitude, the event would not happen.

“I was speaking to a student at work on Monday morning and he said sorry for not watching my fight. He tried, but when he arrived at Etihad Arena he couldn’t get a ticket. It was sold out. I was saying, ‘Serious?’

“That’s unbelievable, because it was like 24 hours. The crowd was crazy, shouting my name. How can I say? I was there, my body was there, but I was on another planet at the same time. I am so grateful to Abu Dhabi.”

Machado feels indebted, too, to Silva. The pair go way back, when more than a decade ago they began training together in Brazil. They have kept in touch since, even sharing messages from afar regarding their UAE duel before meeting face-to-face in the Emirates.

“I can say everything I want, but I will never have enough words to say how important Anderson is in my life,” Machado says. “The things he did for me when I lived in Brazil, how he took care of me, how he helped me before.

“For you to have an idea, before I came to the UAE, I had no clothes. The clothes I had were because Anderson gave them to me. He always helped me, in the gym, always give me money before.

“He’s unbelievable, brother, I love him. I can try to give it back, but it will never be enough.”

Friendship aside, Machado was determined to put on a show in Abu Dhabi and, in that regard, it was mission accomplished. He lasted the scheduled eight rounds with Silva, considered one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time, only ever in trouble when the former UFC middleweight champion landed a flurry of blows at the conclusion of the fifth round, knocking Machado to the canvas.

Machado, though, has watched back the fight, highlighting that the three final punches – two to the body, a right hook to the head – were thrown after the bell sounded.

To his credit, he rebounded to see out the contest (given it was an exhibition, there was no winner crowned). All in all, it constituted a commendable performance against a guy who has triumphed in his two boxing bouts - against a former boxing world champion and a former UFC world champion - since leaving the world's lead MMA promotion in late 2020.

“You know, it was an exhibition, but if you see myself now, I have a black eye, I have a cut on my eyebrow,” Machado says, from the other side of the phone. “So it was a hard exhibition.

“I was doing an exhibition against the greatest [mixed martial artist] of all-time, so I felt on my skin what the other fighters felt when he was fighting in UFC.”

And, although now aged 47, Silva still carries a significant threat.

“Man, he’s unbelievable,” Machado says. “How smart he is, how fast he moves. Really, age is just a number … it is just a number. If you want to keep fighting you can do it. And he is proof of that.”

There was evidence, also, that Machado can more than hold his own in exalted company. That, even, despite the obvious size difference: Machado went into the fight around his normal weight of 85 kilograms, while he believes Silva was close to 100 kgs.

“Since the moment I knew I would be fighting Anderson, the only thing in my mind was I have to look good there,” he says. “That’s why I was training very, very hard. At home, after Saturday night, I watched that fight and, in my opinion and all my coaches said the same, I did amazing.

“The only bad thing that happened was after the bell. But they said they are all proud of me. So I’m very happy; I think I should be with my performance. I did an exhibition against Anderson Silva, man.”

The sense of accomplishment was felt all the way back home. Machado has received numerous videos from family and friends in Brazil, everyone gathered together at parties and around a television in celebration, watching him share the spotlight with a sporting national treasure.

Machado will soon be able to thank them in person for the support, to go over a night he says “he could never imagine would happen in my life”, when he heads back to Brazil for a holiday in July.

He had been planning to defend his lightweight title at the next UAE Warriors in Abu Dhabi, on July 2, but his opponent withdrew through injury. The unfortunate break does allow, though, for a well-earned rest, with Machado, wife Flaviane and young son Kauan keen to catch-up with friends and family.

No doubt, Saturday night at Etihad Arena will be at the forefront of most conversations. In general, the trip home might be a little different, what with Machado's profile growing considerably following his showdown with Silva.

“I’m ready,” Machado says, laughing. “But, you know, I just want to be one normal person, like everyone else. It’s just that on Saturday I got to live my dream.”

Updated: May 29, 2022, 11:24 AM