At UFC 148, the incomparable Anderson Silva will defend his UFC middleweight title against Chael Sonnen. A rematch of their scintillating fight from UFC 117, this one promises to be a battle for the ages. And though Sonnen did well in the first encounter, he has his work cut out for him. The champion, without hesitation or doubt, is the best MMA fighter the world has ever seen.
That's not just my opinion. Using our own statistical analysis, Bleacher Report determined that Anderson Silva is indeed the greatest MMA fighter of all time. But statistics only tell part of the story. Sport is about moments. Memories. Those snapshots in time that we will remember until our dying days, the proverbial "tell your grandkids about it" moments.
Here, once again, Silva stands alone. He does things in the cage you struggle to explain, let alone duplicate. His diverse striking technique is so incredible, so masterful, that he stands alone as the greatest artist in the history of a sport.
There may never again be another Anderson Silva. These moments are the reason why.
In 2003, Carlos Newton was still considered one of the top fighters in the world. Coming off of two tough fights with Matt Hughes, Newton was supposed to walk through Silva.
Instead, a flying knee cracked him right in the noggin. From there, the men's paths diverged. Newton was never the same fighter. Silva was on his way to being one of the best in the world.
Although Tony Fryklund's name has been forgotten with time, at one point he was one of those fighters who other fighters talked about. Fryklund hadn't excelled in the cage—but in the gym he was competitive with some of the best fighters in the world.
Against Anderson Silva, he quickly realized that Cage Rage was not Miletich's gym. It's not remarkable that Silva beat Fryklund. What's remarkable is his casual elegance while doing so.
"When I get in there, I'm in his face, I'm pressing the action. I'm roughnecking him. I'm punching him. He's punching me and I'm eating his shots and just blasting him back in the face? He's not going to be able to handle it."
-Chris Leben, to a live TV audience before his fight with Anderson Silva.
It wasn't that Chris Leben was delusional. It was that we had no idea how good Anderson Silva was. No one did. Exactly 49 seconds into the fight, we knew. A legend was about to be born.
Rich Franklin is probably the second-best middleweight in the history of MMA. But that's easy to forget—mostly because of how easily he had his face smashed in by Anderson Silva at UFC 64.
Silva's deft use of the Thai clinch, a move he utilized to brutalize Franklin's body and face, was something fans hadn't seen before. With his skinny arms and lithe frame, it was a little surprising to see Silva manhandling the more muscular Franklin.
Beating Leben was one thing. Beating Franklin, and easily, put Silva on the map as one of the pound-for-pound best.
Travis Lutter, the middleweight winner of the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter, earned a title fight with his victory over Patrick Cote. It was an intriguing fight for Silva.
We knew—by this point you'd have to be blind not to know—that Silva was one of the best strikers in the world. But how well he'd do against a great grappler was an open question.
At UFC 67, Silva answered the question in the most definitive way possible—by tapping Lutter out with a triangle choke of his own.
The UFC loved Rich Franklin. A former school teacher, he was a great representative for a sport that was trying hard to convince skeptics that it wasn't the home of thugs and bar room brawlers.
So, when it came time for a Silva rematch, the UFC did all it could for Rich. They booked the fight in his hometown, but it could have been in his backyard. Silva was unfazed. He beat Franklin, again, effortlessly. This time, in the aftermath, UFC president Dana White was one of the first to suggest Anderson Silva was the best fighter in the world.
He wouldn't be the last.
Dan Henderson came into the UFC as the Pride champion at both 185 and 205 pounds. Despite two great fights, he didn't maintain that championship status for long.
In his first UFC fight in years, Henderson lost a unification match at light heavyweight with "Rampage" Jackson. In his next, Silva submitted him with a rear-naked choke.
With Henderson vanquished, the middleweight division started looking a little small to the great Silva. He set his sites on light heavyweight, beating James Irvin in the first round. But it was against a different light heavyweight that Silva would add another memorable moment to a career chock full of them.
Would Forrest Griffin's massive size give middleweight Anderson Silva trouble? Could Silva, who had beaten James Irvin, compete against a former champion at 205 pounds? Did he have the power to finish an enormous man standing?
The answer to each question, legitimate questions at the time, was an emphatic "yes." Silva made Griffin look foolish, dropping his hands and dodging the fan favorite's punches like they were coming in slow motion. Then he reached out and plonked his fist right on Griffin's jaw.
Silva didn't even believe Griffin warranted a power punch. He barely even seemed to be paying attention. The blow seemed effortless, like he was fighting Griffin while also considering quantum physics or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
It was this moment, one that caused Griffin to flee the cage in shame, that the possibility that Silva was the best fighter of all time had to be seriously considered.
Don't tell Chael P. Sonnen, but I loved this fight:
My petite and polite wife was up like a shot. She's inches from the television, screaming her head off. "Oh my God. Anderson! Kill him! Choke him. Choke him!" It was that kind of fight. No amount of breeding, class, or dignity can defeat the power of the UFC. If you ever need to show someone a fight to explain what it is about this sport that moves you, that stirs the primal passions inside, simply pop in a DVD of this show.
...As the fifth and final round opened the impossible seemed a real possibility. Sonnen had only to survive to pull off the biggest upset in UFC history. And then, it was Sonnen being Sonnen, beating himself in the biggest fight of his life. Seconds before the triangle choke that ended his night I tweeted that he was begging to be armbarred. Perhaps looking for an exciting finish, Sonnen got careless. He left his arms wide open, recklessly attacking the champion who lay prone beneath him. Like a true champion, Silva made him pay.
And we celebrated in my house. Sleeping kids be damned-it was a moment worthy of the shouts we couldn't contain. One of the greatest champions I've ever seen pulled of a bona fide miracle. I was proud to be witness to it, triumph trumping tragedy in the final seconds. What an amazing moment.
Anderson Silva's incredible front kick to the face of Vitor Belfort was something to behold. But what took it to the next level was his seemingly ludicrous claim that he learned the kick from Steven Seagal:
“Steven Seagal helped me perfect that kick. That was a kick we were working on before I stepped in,” Silva said through a translator at the post-fight press conference. “This was a kick that I trained a lot.”