Alex “Little Rock” Silva had a year to remember in 2017.
The Brazilian surged into world title contention with a string of impressive submission finishes over the Philippines’ Roy Doliguez and Japan’s Hayato Suzuki. Then, he showed the world that he is a complete martial artist by using his newly-discovered striking prowess to defeat previously-unbeaten titleholder Yoshitaka Naito to capture the ONE Strawweight World Championship.
It was an emotional night for the Brazilian, who experienced the euphoria of world championship success before as a BJJ world champion. But now, as ONE Strawweight World Champion, “Little Rock” has big plans for the future.
In this exclusive interview, Silva discusses his world title victory as well as his goals for 2018 and beyond.
ONE: Congratulations on winning the ONE Strawweight World Championship. What was running through your head when you were waiting for the verdict to be read?
Alex Silva: I was very emotional and excited. I talked to my cornermen after every round, and they said I was doing OK, doing good, so I was pretty confident I would be the winner. I was very emotional and happy by the time they announced my name.
ONE: Before the bout, you told us people had not seen your striking yet, and then you won the world title by out-striking Naito. How satisfying was it to be able to show how good your striking was in such an important bout?
AS: I am very happy about that performance, because people usually see me as a grappling guy. I know my skills, and I know I can strike. Because I was competing in Thailand, I wanted to put on a good show for people, so I came up with this plan to strike with him, and if the takedown worked well, I would grapple with him, but if I was having fun with my striking, I would just keep all the rounds striking. I wanted to show I can strike. I think it is going to be good for my future. I want people to see I am more than just a grappler. I want people to see I am a complete martial artist.
ONE: How did you celebrate the world title win?
AS: My family — my mother, my daughter, my brother, and my sister — they came all the way from Brazil to Bangkok to watch me. It was a very blessed moment in my life. I got the belt, and I had my family in the cage with me. It was a great moment. I was very happy. After that, I just stayed with them at the hotel, and they took care of me.
ONE: You were a BJJ world champion, and now you have won the ONE Strawweight World Championship. How do the two compare?
AS: I think you cannot even compare them. Of course, by the time I got the title in BJJ, I was very happy, too. But when you become a ONE World Champion, it is such a big thing for you. It is such a big accomplishment in your life. You cannot even compare them, because this is so much bigger, and so much more emotional.
ONE: What has changed for you? How has being the world champion changed your life?
AS: I am a very humble and quiet guy. I do not really party much or do things like that. I am able to be world champion because of my hard work and because I am always humble, so I always try to remain the same in this way.
For me, I always keep in my mind that nothing has changed. I still keep in my mind that I want to be a world champion. I still want to work to be a world champion. I do not want to think that I am the world champion, or that I am good, because I want to remain humble and keep working hard to keep this belt for a long time.
It is nice to be the world champion, because sometimes when you walk around, people recognize you, and they want to talk to you or take a picture. But it is just part of the job. I keep my feet on the ground. I have good people around to advise me. The most important thing for me is to be humble, and put God first in everything.
ONE: What sort of world champion do you want to be?
AS: I want to be an example for people, because I believe that everybody, every athlete, has been inspired by someone. I want people to appreciate me not just for my skill inside the cage. I want people to see me as a good human being, who worked hard for things, who believes in God in their life. I want people to see that if you do that, you can achieve your dreams.
ONE: Martin Nguyen had a huge year last year, too. He became a two-division world champion. Do you think that is something you could emulate, and have success competing as a flyweight?
AS: I do not think about that right now. For me, this is just the beginning. I have been working hard at this for a long time, so my goal now is to be the world champion of the strawweight division. I just got the belt, and to be a good world champion you have to defend your belt and keep improving. I do not really think about other weight classes. I just want to protect this division and defend this title. But never say never; things could happen.
ONE: Who do you see as the next big challengers for your world title?
AS: I do not know yet. I have heard things before suggesting we are going to have a rematch [with Yoshitaka Naito], but I cannot say if it is 100 percent. I am looking for a bout in May. I will be ready then, but until now, I do not know. There are a lot of good, talented guys in this division, but I will stay focused on working on my own skills. I want to be world champion for a long time, so it does not matter who they put in front of me. I will be ready.
ONE: What new goals are you setting for yourself now?
AS: My goal is to be a legend of this division. I do not want to just be the world champion, I want to be the best ever in this division. I work hard, I have the discipline, and I have everything on my side to do it. I have a good team around me, I have the dedication, I have the skills, and I am hungry. So that is my new goal, to become the best athlete to ever compete in this division.