Five Mental Hurdles Anderson Silva Must Manage To Remain Champ

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2009

On Oct. 25, 2008 the world saw a different side of Anderson Silva, one nobody could have anticipated or ever predicted. 

That marked the date of UFC 90 where Silva successfully defended his middleweight championship belt against Patrick Cote after Cote could not continue in the third round due to a serious knee injury. 

The fact that Cote made it into the third round was news in itself. It was the first time in the UFC an opponent had done so and the only time since 2004 (under the PRIDE banner) that this minor, but respectable, achievement had been fulfilled against Silva.

Throughout the fight Silva seemed not like himself. He did not want to engage. He was content dancing around the octagon and feeling out Cote for extended lengths of time.   

Typically the feeling out process lasts only about a minute into the first round for Silva.  From that point on, he usually begins his patented Muay Thai “eight points of contact” assault consisting of knees, punches, kicks, and elbows that traditionally overwhelm his opponents. This was not the case against Cote. 

Was it simply a bad night for Silva or was it something more?

What was missing on the surface appeared to be his burning desire to be the best, to dismantle and thoroughly dominate his opponent like he has done so many times before, and to continue to cement his legacy.

He certainly was not having any physical issues. On the other hand, there did seem to be some sort of a mental battle being waged behind the façade that was tangibly taking shape before our very eyes. 

He gave the impression he was preoccupied, complacent, and unfocused. These are characteristics that no professional fighter should ever acquire.  

Looking ahead, there is a fight against Thales Leites looming on the horizon at UFC 97 in April. While Leites may not be a big name like Silva’s previous challengers, I would argue he poses the biggest stylistic threat that Silva has ever faced in the UFC, due to his superior submission game.  

Other possible future opponents include Yushin Okami, Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, and Rich Franklin.  

I am fully convinced that Silva has been dealing with a few formidable mental hurdles, five of them which are listed below, for many months now. 

He will need to minimize the effect that each has had on him going forward.  He simply cannot continue down the current path he has drifted down mentally if he wishes to continue to be the champion throughout the remainder of his career.   

1) Feeling Unchallenged in the UFC.

Silva has had a relatively easy run through the upper tier of the UFC middleweight division.  He knocked out Chris Leben in his UFC debut and completely dismantled Rich Franklin at UFC 64 to earn the middleweight championship belt. 

He then rattled off four straight dominating victories over No. 1 contenders Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin (again), and Dan Henderson. 

Next, he accepted a challenge at 205 pounds against James Irvin to try his luck at light heavyweight. He subsequently knocked out Irvin in the first round. The Patrick Cote fight, as previously mentioned, followed Irvin. 

None of these fights got past the second round (other than Cote) and he was able to finish each of the fights either by KO, TKO, or submission. 

He was never in any serious danger at any point.  He made it look too easy and these were thought to be some of the best middleweight fighters in the world that he was dismantling. 

Who can blame him for being unchallenged? After all, it is Joe Silva of the UFC who fabricates the matchups. 

There is a big difference between simply giving Silva a big name and actually stylistically challenging him with a Demian Maia, a Rousimar Palhares, or a Thales Leites. Thankfully, with the Leites fight now booked, this trend is starting to turn. 

2) Imminent Retirement

Currently, Silva has five remaining fights on his UFC contract. The previously mentioned bout with Thales Leites will knock the total down to just four fights. Within 12–18 months, we could very well see the end of Silva’s career in mixed martial arts.  

According to an interview in 2008 prior to Silva’s fight with Patrick Cote, Silva’s manager Ed Soares stated, “Anderson’s goal is to retire when he is 35. He still has six fights on his contract and he doesn’t turn 35 for another 18 months. I know he will finish his six fights before he considers hanging up his gloves.”   

Silva may no longer have anything to prove in the sport once his contract is fulfilled.  He is already looked upon by many fans and media outlets as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he will most certainly go down as one of the all-time greats. 

The end of his contract could mean the beginning of a new chapter in his life.  He might not be able to help himself looking forward to the possibility of new challenges with the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter with each passing day.   

3) Desire To Return To Boxing

After Silva’s victory over Dan Henderson at UFC 82, he immediately expressed interest in trying his hand at boxing again. Prior to his MMA career Silva was a professional boxer. He also named Roy Jones Jr. as an ideal opponent. 

UFC President Dana White countered by essentially saying it would never happen under his watch. Not while he was under contract with the UFC. 

Silva still has not been deterred. He remains steadfast in his desire to get back to the sport of boxing, which would present an entirely new challenge for Silva at this point in his athletic career. 

Exactly two weeks after his fight with Patrick Cote at UFC 90 Silva flew to New York to see Roy Jones Jr. fight Joe Calzaghe at Madison Square Garden. 

Since then, Silva has also been to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, CA to train under legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach. He has even sparred with former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski at the gym, who is another Roach trainee. 

As recent as November 2008 in an interview with Guilherme Cruz of Silva continued to express interest in boxing after his MMA career was complete, stating, “It’s in my plans (boxing), it’s one of my personal projects.”

It is no longer a question of if with boxing, but when it will actually take shape, and it is certainly not the only extra curricular activity Silva is currently pursuing.   

4) Desire To Act In Movies

Being a recognizable athlete and a celebrity certainly comes with its perks. One of the benefits is it allows other opportunities to come that may never have presented themselves otherwise.      

In Silva’s case, it is the movie industry that has presented a unique and new challenge.  Trying his hand at acting has certainly caught his attention. It’s also a way to generate income without putting himself in harms way, which is what he is normally accustomed to doing inside the octagon. 

It has not been an experimentation in movie making, either. Silva continues to pursue movie roles. He has been involved with three movies to date including Death Warrior, Never Surrender, and Hell’s Chain, which are all in various stages of production.    

Cung Le seems to have put his mixed martial arts career on hold to pursue movies.  Roger Huerta also recently turned down a contract extension with the UFC to pursue his own Hollywood dream. Could Silva be bitten by the acting bug for good? That remains to be seen.   

While filming movies may seem like a minor distraction for Silva at this point it is a distraction nonetheless. It takes time, energy, and focus away from his real craft. 

5) The Passing of His “Mother”

The passing of a loved one can have a profound impact on any family. This was unfortunately the case for Silva and his family in 2008. 

The woman who raised him in his youth passed away in Curitiba, Brazil on May 19, 2008. The woman was actually his aunt but Silva called her his “mother.” She was an incredibly important figure in molding Silva into the man he is today.    

Roughly two weeks after her passing Silva accepted the “Most Dangerous Man in the World” award at Spike’s Guy’s Choice Awards and dedicated the honor to his mother during a heartfelt speech. 

The grieving process alone could be the toughest opponent Silva has ever faced.  There is no question it has likely been weighing on his mind for some time now.


Derek Bolender writes exclusively for  Send Derek a question, comment, or suggestion to


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