In the world of professional sports, the image an athlete has is usually a carefully crafted thing.
It’s not just geared to cater to the fans, it’s built to attract sponsors and their monies while ensuring the kind of longevity said athlete hopes he can maintain throughout his career with little effort.
For a fighter like Anderson Silva—who enjoys the accolades and attention normally only afforded to the best in the world—the image of a humble, reserved and honorable martial artist wearing a white hat has been his image, come hell or high water.
And some high water has been seen, to be sure.
He’s found himself receiving no small amount of criticism due to lackluster fights against men such as Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia, and against the latter, Dana White loudly proclaimed that should Silva ever put on clown shoes and dance like that again, he would be cut from the promotion (via MMAFighting.com).
But he’s still here, sitting atop the world, because fight fans remember your last fight above all else, and since the Maia debacle, Silva has delivered the goods, his white hat firmly in place throughout.
That is, until the conference call to promote UFC 148, where Silva will rematch the only man to make him look utterly human: Chael Sonnen.
Perhaps it was because there were no cameras in his face, or maybe he’s simply had enough, but on that call Silva either forgot where he keeps his hat or simply decided to throw it in the ring.
In uncharacteristic form, Silva made his intentions clear: Playtime is over.
On the call, Silva said he was going to break every bone in Sonnen’s face and all his teeth (h/t Gareth Davies, The Telegraph). He said he was going to beat Sonnen’s ass out of the sport.
He also said what he’s going to do to Sonnen will change the image of the sport.
And with that comes a simple question: Will a violent, aggressive victory for Silva hurt his image?
This is not the first time two men have entered into a fight with the very worst intentions, and at worse, death has been the result: on March 24, 1962, Emile Griffith beat Benny Paret so badly that he died from the injuries.
Why did he do this? Because Paret had said he was gay.
Of course, that was a long time ago, in a totally different sport, but the underlying danger is clear.
Anderson Silva is a man with all the tools to make good on his threat, but odds are that should he find himself having his way with Sonnen, the result will be a 10th successful title defense for Silva and a swollen and bloody face for Sonnen.
And that’s fine, because MMA is a combat sport; bruises and blood and stitches come with the territory.
But what if Silva is every bit as angry as it seems?
It’s hard to imagine a knockout as brutal as when Dan Henderson dropped Michael Bisping and then launched himself in the air to administer the coup de grace, now known the world over as “Air Hendo.” But given Anderson Silva’s abilities, it is quite possible we could see something worse.
In this case, worse could mean a violent, sustained beating that sees Sonnen bleeding like a stuck pig from Round 1 to Round 5, taking shocking amounts of unnecessary punishment while being unable to prevent it. Yes, the sport as seen that before, but never in a fight of this magnitude and never by a man with the skills of Silva.
Should Silva be in top form, there is a very real chance that he could carve Sonnen up with punches, elbows, knees and kicks, and given that Sonnen is a gamer who doesn’t mind loosing about half of his body's blood supply in a fight, it could go on and on and on.
We’ve all seen Silva play with his food before, but most of the time we’ve just seen him kill it and leave it on the Octagon floor.
But we’ve never seen him eat it.
Given all the things Sonnen has said about him and the country of Brazil, Silva seems more than happy to take off his white hat and take a seat at the table for a feast.
If the meat is rare and bleeding all over the plate, it could indeed hurt Silva’s image as the man who denies the urge to gorge, happy with the virtues of moderation and charity.
Or it could make his appeal on the world stage skyrocket, proving that he’s just as human as the next guy, and when pushed past that line, he will turn savage.
There is a saying in politics: “There’s only two things people don’t want to see being made: laws and sausages.”
Come UFC 148, we might finally see how sausage gets made, Brazilian style. If so, what will remain to be seen is if Silva comes across as a humble farmer simply plying his trade or a butcher.