Anderson Silva: Is He Afraid to Face Jon Jones or Just Smart?

McKinley Noble@KenTheGreat1Correspondent IOctober 25, 2012

Anderson Silva says that he'll face Jon Jones if he must. Is it possible that he's simply scared?
Anderson Silva says that he'll face Jon Jones if he must. Is it possible that he's simply scared?Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Is the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history afraid of a 25-year-old prodigy?

That's been a huge question circling a potential Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones super-fight, a dream match that MMA fans have been feverishly calling for this year.

UFC president Dana White wants to see it, fans want to see it and even elusive pay-per-view buyers are expected to turn out in droves for such a rare match-up.

Just about everyone wants to see that fight—except for Silva himself.

Until recently, Silva wasn't open to the idea for a list of reasons: He's tired of fighting at light heavyweight, he respects Jones' legacy and he views the light heavyweight champion as a friend. But maybe the biggest reason of all is the most understandable one—he's just plain scared.

Is that even possible? Does Anderson Silva, the longest reigning champion in UFC history, fear Jon Jones?

If he does, you can't blame him.

In just a little over four years, Jones has arguably turned in a greater career than Silva, climbing to the top of the MMA rankings, virtually unbeaten, with five UFC champions lying at his feet. He's a vicious fighter with a mean streak that translates into a rather dirty combat style.

Moreover, Jones is an elite wrestler and grappler—exactly the sort of opponent that Silva's been reluctant to face during his career.

Former Strikeforce and PRIDE champion Dan Henderson's been one of the few fighters to give Silva a struggle, and years later, he's still waiting for his rematch. Blame that on an injured elbow suffered by Silva in 2010, which almost required surgery.

But was Silva ever really injured? Or was he just ducking Henderson?

At this point, it's hard to tell. As "Hendo" pointed out to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour, Silva has a habit of turning up injured when there's a fight lined up that he doesn't want.

Most notably, the highly marketable Sonnen jumped through quite a few hoops himself before UFC 148, including two risky fights with Brian Stann and Michael Bisping. Even with Sonnen's failed drug test, the UFC wanted to fast-track him to a rematch, but Silva stonewalled the idea for as long as possible.

Circumstantial evidence hints that Silva is simply fearful of a capable opponent who can give him trouble on the mat.

But on the other hand, Silva is also a smart business man who doesn't take fights without making Dana White work for it.

Just a short matter of weeks ago during a UFC 153 media call, the middleweight champion all but killed the idea of a super-fight with Jones:

It's something I've never wanted. I won't be pretentious and say that I'd want to move up, especially because there are other guys in the weight class and on our team like Rafael Feijao (Cavalcante) and (Antonio Rogerio) Minotoro Nogueira, guys who could potentially face Jon Jones in the future.

What got me this far is that I'm grounded; my weight class is 185 and I'm 37 years old. I feel I need to be honest and continue to build what I've built and that is to keep defending my belt at 185.

At a glance, that excuse hits all the right talking points.

Defeating Jon Jones takes away the potential achievement from Silva's teammates. That seems reasonable enough. After all, Silva is old within the context of MMA years. He could never face Jones and would still be regarded as the greatest fighter in UFC history.

And yet, the door on Silva vs. Jones still isn't completely shut.

Only a few days after defeating Stephan Bonnar in Rio de Janiero, Silva's tune suddenly changed as he talked to Brazilian news group SporTV (translation via Bloody Elbow):

My weight class is 185, my belt is of that weight class. But people are talking so much about this [fight], and we are employees of the UFC. Of course, I could be saying that I don't want it, but what if [Jones] goes out and accepts the money Dana is proposing for him to fight? It will be hard [not to accept it]. It's not the money that motivates me to fight, I fight because I like it. So, I don't know. I wouldn't like [to fight him]. But if it's going to happen, it would have to be at a catchweight. The belt shouldn't be at play. I already have mine.

Again, Silva makes it clear that he doesn't want to fight Jones if he can help it, but he acknowledges that money may eventually tip their hands.

In the end, that just might be what all the posturing comes down to—money.

As the first MMA fighter to be sponsored by Nike and Burger King, Silva has the unique position of knowing exactly what he's worth to the company. He's likely the highest-paid employee in the promotion, and whenever "The Spider" puts pen to paper for a fight, the UFC is paying top dollar for the privilege of his presence in the Octagon.

Silva's made it clear that he will put his reputation on the line, but not his belt.

Whether he's fearful of maintaining his legacy or just angling for a huge paycheck, it's nonetheless a step forward in the right direction—and hopefully one that leads to the biggest fight in UFC history.

[McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist and FightFans Radio writer. His work has appeared in GamePro, Macworld and PC World. Talk with him on Twitter.]