Anderson Silva has named Hayato Sakurai as the toughest opponent he has ever faced during his decorated fighting career.
Silva (34-11), a native of Curitiba, Brazil, fought a who's-who list of opponents in the UFC for more than a decade, swiftly climbing the ranks to become UFC middleweight champion in 2006, until he was released by the promotion in late 2020.
The 45-year-old, who is currently preparing to fight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, is regarded as one of the greatest fighters of his generation.
And the former UFC middleweight champion revealed that he came up against his toughest opponent early in his career when he was plying his trade in the Japanese promotion Shooto.
Speaking exclusively to GIVEMESPORT, the Brazilian superstar hailed the former Shooto middleweight champion while calling him his toughest opponent.
"I had many tough opponents," the 45-year-old said. "But my toughest opponent was Hayato Sakurai when I fought in Shooto in Japan.
"He was a tough, tough, tough, tough opponent."
Given the rather unceremonious way in which Chris Weidman dethroned Silva in the now-infamous main event of UFC 162 in July 2013, one might have expected his name to be the first on the lips of the man who was unfortunate enough to suffer a broken leg in their rematch when asked for their toughest opponent.
However, 'The Spider' insists that former UFC and PRIDE veteran Sakurai posed the biggest threat to his career. Back then, 'Wild Charisma' Sakurai (38-13-2) was unbeaten at the time, riding a 13-fight winning streak that included wins over Frank Trigg and Tetsuji Kato.
"Well, Hayato Sakurai at the time was a beast inside the cage," he added. "I think he beat six or seven Brazilian guys, and every single person Hayato fought, he knock [sic] them out.
"And when I was watching the videos of him fighting, I say 'whoa, I have a good challenge.'"
Silva would then go on to become the first man to defeat Sakurai, becoming the Shooto middleweight champion in the process, something which he still holds dear to this day.
He continued: "When I fought with Hayato, it was very special for me, you know, because it was the first time I fought for my country, my first title belt... it was so, so amazing for me."
"It was a tough moment in my life, it was my first fight for a title belt, you know, so it's very special to me."
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