UFC 148: Why Anderson Silva Should Retire with a Win over Chael Sonnen
Last week, a giant of mixed martial arts bowed out of the sport forever. In his home country, in front of a crowd of his fellow Russians, Fedor Emelianenko ended his career with an emphatic win over veteran Pedro Rizzo.
He’d been talking about retiring for a long time, but throwing in his gloves on the back of three ignominious losses was never the way for a champion to go.
Those losses—to Fabricio Werdum, Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson—exposed how far from the modern sport of MMA the 35-year-old had drifted, as he struggled to keep pace with the new breed of heavyweights.
Over the last two years, following his loss to Henderson, Emelianenko embarked on a legacy-salvaging operation, taking on the paucity of talent left fighting outside mainstream organizations.
A final victory over Rizzo was enough for The Last Emperor, as he exited the sport a hero to his fellow countrymen but largely ignored by the mainstream MMA media.
It is a situation another great—perhaps the greatest—of the sport, should be paying attention to.
When he marks his final moments in the cage, Anderson Silva should be acutely aware that in the unsentimental world of sport, few get to go out on their own terms.
At 37 years old, Silva has been fighting professionally since 1997. In that time, he’s racked up 31 wins and only four losses. Since 2006, he’s embarked on a 15-fight undefeated run, winning the UFC Middleweight Championship the same year and defending it an unprecedented nine times.
He’s set records and benchmarks in every aspect of the sport, and today he stands on top of the UFC empire, with a reputation unmatched in MMA, having cleaned out his division several times over.
But despite the glittering career, Silva’s forthcoming rematch against Chael Sonnen at UFC 148, this coming weekend, promises to be his biggest fight ever.
Part of that has to do with the beating the Brazilian took at the hands of Sonnen for almost five full rounds in their first encounter—narrowly defeating him with an armbar triangle in the dying minutes.
But part of it also has to do with the hype and media frenzy that Sonnen has been whipping up for the fight for almost two years now.
It could potentially be the biggest fight in the UFC’s history and offer unprecedented paydays to both fighters.
Dana White has called it one of the biggest sporting events of the year—period (h/t FOX's yardbarker.com).
That’s quite a boast in a year that boasts the recently completed Euro 2012 football tournament and the upcoming Olympic games.
If any of this is remotely true, then its hard to imagine how Silva will ever top a win over Sonnen.
That’s not to say that lucrative fights can’t still be made. At 37 Silva is old in the sport, but there are those older still fighting at the top level. And Silva has only now achieved rock-star status in his home country or Brazil—any fight with him, especially in Brazil, would be a massive money-spinner for everyone concerned.
There are fighters, too, who could conceivably give him challenges. Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz and others are all snapping at his heels.
But can any one of those fighters create the kind of interest in fights with Silva that Sonnen has managed?
And what happens if Silva were to lose?
Will we start to eulogize a fighter in decline? Talk about a man fighting past his prime, a shadow of his former self?
Worse fates have befallen athletes more accomplished.
Of course, a post-Sonnen Silva could go on to fight and defeat many more challengers, earning an obscene about of money and extending his reputation as the greatest of all time, putting that epithet beyond the reach of any would-be challenger.
And I’m sure that’s how he would imagine himself leaving the sport—unassailable, untouchable; the richest, most well-known fighter in UFC’s history.
But then, that’s exactly how he would be remembered with a victory over Sonnen, the only man every truly to threaten his legacy.
So why risk it all against lesser men?
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