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UFC 183 marks the returns of Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz

Nick Diaz flexes during the weigh-in for

Nick Diaz flexes during the weigh-in for UFC 158 in Montreal. (March 15, 2013) Credit: AP

Nick Diaz walked away from fighting 16 months ago because that's what he wanted to do.

Anderson Silva, eight months ago, was carried out of the octagon on a stretcher, the bones in his lower left leg shattered.

Despite Diaz's "retirement" and Silva's recovery, their popularity among UFC fans never waned, evidenced by the fact that "Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz" trended on Twitter several hours after it was announced. And that was on a Tuesday evening with no live fights scheduled anytime soon.

"I didn't really ever mean to make the statement that I'm retired," Diaz said. "You never really retire from martial arts . . . What I meant to say is that I'm not doing anybody any favors and I'm not doing myself a favor by taking a fight I'm not happy with."

Since his last fight -- a loss to then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre on March 16, 2013 -- Diaz had often said he'd only return for a title shot or a big-money fight such as the one he just booked. Diaz signed a new UFC contract on July 24 and will fight Silva at UFC 183 on Jan. 31, 2015 in Las Vegas.

"I can't complain," said Diaz (27-9-1). "I can't ask for anything more. I'm happy with the deal that I made. It's hard out there, especially when the rest of these guys aren't getting paid what they should be getting paid. And they sit around and can't open their mouth about anything."

When Diaz enters the cage for that middleweight bout on pay-per-view during Super Bowl weekend, it will have been 686 days since he last fought, by far the longest time between fights for the 31-year-old from Stockton, Calif.

Silva (33-6) returns to competitive mixed martial arts after a devastating leg injury in his rematch against UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman last December. In the second round of their bout at UFC 168, Silva threw a left leg kick that Weidman checked with his left knee. Silva fell to the ground in an instant, and his lower left leg turned flaccid. Silva had a broken tibia and fibula and had surgery that night in Las Vegas by UFC orthopedist Dr. Steven Sanders.

In the eight months since surgery, Silva has regularly posted photos and videos of his rehab on his social media accounts. Each one seemed to generate more buzz among the more than 6 million combined followers of his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

"I'm just dying to return to the octagon and do the thing that I most love in my life, and that's happening right now," Silva said. "I have been doing a lot of physical therapy, and right now it's at 95 percent and improving. "The day of the fight, it's going to be 100 percent."

As excited as the 39-year-old Brazilian is to return to MMA, there are at least six people less than happy about it -- his wife and their five children.

"To tell you the truth, they are not too happy," Silva said. "But they respect my wish, and now they're coping with it. ... I don't think anybody's family would like to see them going to war, and with mine, it wouldn't be different."

New York Sports