During a in-cage interview with Joe Rogan immediately following his devastating knockout of James Irvin, Anderson Silva stated through his translator that he is a muay thai fighter who has been training in that discipline since he was a kid, and if you stand up and exchange muay thai with him, “this is what happens.”
It was a chilling statement that served to bolster what most already knew; Anderson Silva’s striking exists on a higher level than any other MMA fighter in the sport at any time, past or present.
Anderson Silva is introduced in The Octagon as a muay thai fighter. This is a rarity nowadays among the heaps of wrestlers and Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialists who have flooded the sport.
This is a man who left Brazil’s famed Chute Boxe Academy in 2003 to form the Muay Thai Dream Team, a move that only makes sense for someone who is already one of the sport’s premiere strikers.
From his laser-like precision punches and kicks, to his phenomenal footwork and seemingly impenetrable standup defense, Anderson Silva is MMA’s top dog.
Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. This past September, on the heels of Silva’s most recent victory over Yushin Okami at UFC 134, MMAFighting.com’s Mike Chiappetta wrote an article titled When Anderson Silva Fights, Opponents and Records Both Fall. In it, Chiappetta lists myriad reasons why Anderson Silva is to be considered the best mixed martial artist fighting today.
Of particular interest (as it pertains to this article) are the first two records listed that are currently held by Silva; most all-time knockdowns in UFC history (15), and first in significant strike accuracy (68.5%). Nothing I say in this article moving forward carries more weight than those two figures.
UFC play-by-play man Mike Goldberg had an encapsulating quote about Silva in the early seconds of his bout with James Irvin back in July of 2008, when he stated that Silva’s “precision is so precise.” Incredibly redundant though that statement is, it’s also oddly fitting for a striker of Silva’s caliber, and the two records previously listed paint the picture that Goldberg was trying to illustrate.
Silva lands his strikes more frequently than any other fighter, and his strikes carry more power than most fighters are able to generate. That statistic is a testament to the textbook striking form that has become second nature for Silva.
Any instructor can attest that they teach their students to throw strikes with maximum power upon impact. That Silva has such a high knockdown rate proves he understands how to correctly harness and unleash his power on his opponents better than most.
With statistics out of the way, we turn our attention to prime examples of Anderson Silva’s dominance as a striker in MMA.
Fans say it constantly, and we’ve seen it, albeit rarely, in fights where Silva has had trouble. The best recipe for success against Anderson Silva is to put him on the ground.
Specifically, I’m referring to his first round against Dan Henderson, and most of his fight with Chael Sonnen. It’s not that he doesn’t know what he’s doing once there—after all, he is a BJJ black belt under the Nogueira brothers—but any fighter knows his chances of besting Silva are much better in a grappling match than on the feet.
Now, Henderson and Sonnen are two of the better wrestlers in the sport today, and sucking their opponents into grappling matches is what they do best, but each knew a striking battle with Silva weighed heavily against them. Even still, neither one of them could prevent Silva from submitting them.
The point I make is with regard to the respect that other fighters pay Silva when they insist on bringing the fight to the ground. A submission from the wiry Silva is still a strong possibility, but at least the playing field is tilted more towards level on the ground than on the feet, where these fighters know they’re unable to match anything that Silva throws at them.
I’m not inclined to mention Silva’s bout against Thales Leites beyond here, because it was one of the most boring 25 minutes of television I’ve ever seen, but Leites was so intimidated by Silva’s striking, he resigned to putting himself on his back to try and coax Silva into a grappling match. It didn’t work, and Leites’ fear of Silva’s striking made him look worse in defeat than he would have had he simply chosen to actually engage Silva.
Seeing as I’ve mentioned Silva’s fight with James Irvin twice already, let’s put this fight to bed by illustrating how Silva put Irvin to bed.
It was July of 2008, and Silva and Irvin were headlining a card thrown together quickly by the UFC specifically to compete with the now defunct promotion Affliction and their rollout of Fedor Emelianenko, who was fighting former UFC Heavyweight Champion Tim Sylvia the same night. Silva was making his first foray into the UFC’s light heavyweight division, and questions abounded as to whether the UFC middleweight champ could prove equally as impressive against heavier fighters. In short, he could.
James Irvin is no slouch striker, and he has the resume to prove it. Early in his career, Irvin traveled to Thailand to hone his muay thai skills, and by the time he entered the UFC he was undefeated with no decisions and two championships garnered in other promotions.
Though “The Sandman” has currently fallen on hard times as a fighter, he was once revered as a lethal up-and-comer, especially after his eight second KO of Houston Alexander, in which he reared back and uncorked an overhand right that earned him knockout of the night honors at a UFC Fight Night back in April of 2008. Unfortunately for Irvin, such a display of power earned him a ticket into the Octagon with Silva in his next fight.
Silva, after landing two early leg kicks and dodging a high swinging leg from Irvin, caught Irvin’s next kick around his midsection, and plastered Irvin’s face with a right jab while standing still. A barrage of punches while Irvin lay helpless on the ground was all it took to get the ref to call a stop to the fight only one minute into the bout.
It was a jaw-dropping performance and elevated Silva’s name to an even higher level. A man already considered by most to be the best fighter in MMA was now displaying his talents in a heavier weight class, and still doing so dominantly.
I’ve never actually seen a ninja in action, but I imagine it would look something like what Silva did to Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 in August of 2009.
I’m not inclined to recount every step and strike landed by Silva in this bout, but if for some strange reason you’ve yet to see this fight in its brief entirety, then it is my duty to inform you that you’re not really an MMA fan.
I loved Forrest Griffin before this fight, I love him still, but he was thoroughly humiliated by Anderson Silva on this night, and it undoubtedly put a permanent dent in his legacy.
Griffin was less than a year removed from being the UFC light heavyweight champ, and was seen as a significant bump up in talent from the aforementioned Irvin. I know I was excited for this fight to happen, and I thought Griffin might be able to bring the fight to Silva unlike anybody had before.
That’s not quite how it went down, however.
Silva dipped and dodged and slipped and stepped away from everything Griffin threw at him. At one point Silva landed a right jab (I guess that’s what you’d call it) on Griffin while he was backpedaling away from Griffin’s strike attempts, and sent Griffin sprawling to the ground, one of three knockdowns he dealt the former LHW champion in less than a round of action.
We’ve seen plenty of fighters tap out due to submission, but never before or since have I seen a fighter simply put his hand up, as Griffin did as Silva stood over him, as a plea to make it stop.
If I were to pick one fight to prove why Silva is the best striker in MMA, I’d choose this one without hesitation.
Another fight that had me excited at the prospect that somebody might be able to put up a legitimate fight against Silva. Another fight in which Anderson Silva put on a striking display unseen in the sport to date.
This time it wasn’t a series of Jedi-like moves or a ballet of grace spread over a few minutes. It was a single blow that dropped Vitor Belfort and further cemented the legacy of MMA’s best.
The fight had gone about 3 minutes and 20 seconds without much action. A few thrown strikes, mostly missed, and a takedown by Belfort that was more both fighters falling over due to momentum than anything, was all that we had seen to that point.
Not one to aggressively initiate the fight, Silva patiently waited for his opening and capitalized when he saw it. Standing in a southpaw stance, Silva tilted his upper body back as he swung his left leg forward, high enough to connect with Belfort’s chin and drop him to the canvas.
Silva would land two punches as Belfort lay dazed, but they were essentially unnecessary. The damage had been done, and Anderson Silva had put on another display of striking that the sport had yet to witness to that point.
It wasn’t too long until we had a copycat on our hands, as Silva’s own Black House teammate, Lyoto Machida, closed the book on hall-of-famer Randy Couture’s career with a similar front kick at UFC 129.
We revere trailblazers in society. Regardless of whether in the throws of athletic competition, science, arts, or anything else, we justifiably hold those who did it first on a pedestal.
In his fight with Belfort, and really throughout his career, Silva has been the first to walk through doors in the fight game and show others how it’s done. When you examine the stats and look at how he’s accomplished certain feats in the cage, there’s no denying that Silva is the best striker in MMA.
Maybe some day we’ll see another like him, but for the time being, he exists above all the rest.