Anderson Silva’s web must be a lonely place.
For over six years he’s sat there in desolation; a mysterious and misunderstood superstar patiently waiting for that right moment to fly by.
Briefly, he ensnared the venomous Chael Sonnen, and the two shared a spotlight brighter than any the UFC had ever seen. But after Sonnen was vanquished and discarded like the rest, Silva returned to his place of hiding, which for all intents and purposes, may as well be on the moon.
The sport’s greatest fighter is a rarely seen specter. When he does speak, his words are usually nonsensical prose that carry almost no validity. He calls out Cung Le and we laugh. He says his dream fight would be against himself and we scratch our heads.
Like it or not, Silva is a schemer, a jokester, a prankster. Nobody knows why he says what he says or does what he does (there still isn’t a firm truth behind his baffling performance against Demian Maia), but all of his quirks and oddities only add to his legend.
What we do know for sure is that he’s 16-0 in the UFC with a rolodex of spectacular moments. He’s everyone's favorite arachnoid superhero come to life. His limbs fly and flow with chaotic purpose but pinpoint precision, locking onto opponent’s faces the way a jetfighter locks onto a rogue aircraft.
At this juncture in his MMA career, every time he fights, it’s a spectacle. He’s earned that right with bloodshed and magnificence. Plus, he’s earned a dance partner that is at least somewhat comparable to his splendor.
Which is why it may come as an enormous disappointment to Silva, way up out of reach in his web, that the fly headed toward him is Chris Weidman.
Weidman isn’t ready, nor worthy
When Weidman made his MMA debut in 2009, Silva had already been UFC champion for three years.
By the time Weidman arrived in the UFC in 2011, Silva had defended his title nine times and was just a month removed from kicking Vitor Belfort’s molars down his throat.
There isn’t just a gap in big fight experience between Silva and Weidman, there’s an endless gorge. Silva is the longest reigning champion in company history, and by any means or measure, Weidman is one of the least experienced title challengers.
There have only been a handful of fighters in the last decade who have received title shots with fewer fights, namely Cain Velasquez (eight fights) and Brock Lesnar (three fights), but those were drastically different circumstances. Heavyweight is—and always has been—the sport’s weakest division, and Lesnar was simply a media typhoon and an incomparable force when it came to sheer drawing power.
Weidman, we can all agree, is not Lesnar. He is undoubtedly a burgeoning talent, an athletic powerhouse with a penchant for submissions and an improving standup game. No one doubts he has tremendous physical tools. There’s a high chance that, at some point in his career, he will be the UFC middleweight champion. The problem is that right now we have no way to know exactly how good he is.
The measuring stick for the middleweight division is not Silva—that would be impossibly unfair. Instead, look to the three men who have beaten just about everyone else in the division since Silva has ruled: Belfort, Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping.
Along with the recently defected Sonnen, those three have been the clear next best at middleweight in the last five years. Weidman hasn’t fought any of them.
He does have two wins over top-10 talent; a sloppy, boring affair against Maia that he took on short notice, and a throttling of Mark Munoz.
The Munoz victory, in actuality, is almost the sole reason Weidman was thrown into the title discussion in the first place. To be sure, it was an impressive performance over a very good fighter. But Munoz himself is an unproven commodity, losing to arguably the two best fighters he ever fought in Okami and Matt Hamill.
That Munoz win could turn out to be an illusion or the moment a star was born. It’s impossible to say. When you look at Weidman’s lackluster resume and his extreme dearth of star power, his placement against the sport’s greatest fighter is startling.
Silva belongs in a superfight
MMA is infantile in comparison to baseball and basketball and boxing, and thus the present often gets confusingly intertwined with history. It’s often hard to decipher what fighters from the sport’s heyday are lasting legends and what current talents have already accomplished enough to be called one of the best ever.
What is not open for discussion is who the best fighter of all time is. Once upon a time, Fedor Emelianenko had a claim to throne. But, Silva’s seemingly endless brilliance in two different weight classes has helped distance “the Spider” in recent years.
Truth is, we’ve never seen anyone like Silva before. I’ve long become weary of the “ballet of violence” metaphor, but it’s so incredibly apt when it comes to Silva, it’s hard not to apply it. He doesn’t move around the octagon as much as he flows – slipping here, sliding there, as punches and kicks sail by harmlessly. He’s a magician; a spindly, glove-wearing arachnid. He doesn’t beat opponents, he routs them. In his last 16 fights, only one has been even remotely close, and it ended in one of the most spectacular submissions in MMA history.
Silva is so remarkable and historic in his greatness that it amazes me how many MMA fans dislike him. I suppose hatred comes with the territory of being great; you don’t have to look much further than the Yankees or Lakers or Duke basketball to see what happens when you win too much.
But Silva is of such great importance to MMA that he should be universally beloved at this point. We truly don’t know when we’ll see something like this again, and we should all be cherishing it while we have the chance.
Which is why, above all, it’s a bit preposterous to pit Silva against a young, hungry and yet largely anonymous fighter like Weidman when Silva has so openly campaigned to fight the like of Georges St-Pierre and other superstars.
Though it doesn’t seem like Silva has aged a day since his UFC debut, the truth is, he’ll one day be washed up. Every time he fights from now on should be the biggest moment of the year in MMA, just like how all eyes were on Michael Jordan in his final seasons.
Why then, waste one of Silva’s precious last fights on Weidman? The easiest answer, of course, is that there was no one else left. However, giving someone a title shot simply due to process of elimination seems to be a foolish and empty decision.
The UFC deemed Weidman unfit to fight Silva months ago, which is why it paired him with Tim Boetsch. Just because Bisping, Hector Lombard and Rashad Evans all lost doesn’t suddenly make Weidman more worthy.
As much as some fans hate the idea of a fighter picking his opponents, the simple truth is that it happens all the time—and if anyone deserves the right, it’s Silva. He fought everyone and beat everyone the UFC has ever put in front of him. He’s made them millions and accounts for a large percentage of the promotion's most enduring moments.
If he wants GSP, shouldn’t he get it? If not him, why not a big name at light heavyweight, or Strikeforce champ Luke Rockhold? Weidman, meanwhile, could have fought Okami or Belfort and the UFC could have had a true number one contender.
Instead, we have a fight pitting the greatest ever against an unproven unknown, which just seems like a grievous mistake.
Silva, tucked away from the world on his lofty perch, has to think so. And come July 7, Weidman might come to regret he ever asked to enter the spider’s dangerous web.