In principle, defeating Anderson Silva should be no different than beating any other fighter. Superior striking, athleticism, grappling or fight IQ should, if only for one evening, vanquish the middleweight king from his throne.
But it never seems to work out that way, does it?
Elite strikers and world-renowned submission specialists have all fallen short of handing Silva his first loss inside the Octagon. Over the course of 16 consecutive victories, "The Spider" has built enough momentum to be nigh unstoppable.
He approaches the cage with stone-cold composure, fights at his own pace and puts his opponents out of their misery in his own unique way. Elusive and enigmatic regardless of opponent or setting, he has risen to heights that some have clawed at but none have definitively reached.
In this fights, Silva has always managed to showcase the chasm of skill that separates him from ordinary fighters. The UFC has even created a tribute to his accomplishments.
At UFC 162, Chris Weidman will attempt to succeed where 14 of his predecessors have failed. Seemingly unfazed by the size of his undertaking, the young contender has gone so far as to demand Silva's respect. Perhaps such a confident approach is the only one to take.
It certainly isn't novel, though.
Silva's previous matchups have featured confident, bold and brash contenders, and in the end, they all fell by the wayside.
But the reasons for Silva's success aren't as mysterious as the athlete who drives them. Although UFC president Dana White has previously likened his relations with Silva to something like "dealing with an artist," the actual artistry is far more defined.
His brush strokes are crisp and clear, and he prefers to paint only in red. Over the last seven years, Silva has turned the Octagon into his own canvas.
Let's examine the key factors that have enabled him to be so unstoppable in the UFC.
Silva has no interest in casual striking exchanges—every blow thrown is a potential fight-ender.
He seems to possess a preternatural ability to know just where his opponents will wind up over the course of combat. Then he makes it a matter of moving his fists, elbow, knees and feet toward their vital parts in the most lethal ways.
Reed Kuhn of Fightnomics recently deconstructed the best UFC strikers in search of a pound-for-pound leader. When the data were processed, the result was no surprise:
The experiment and number crunching boils down to a single winning metric. With the highest “adjusted knockdowns per attempted power head strike score,” Anderson Silva is statistically the most dangerous striker to ever compete in the Octagon.
Superb fighters may work by means of volume—combinations become their keys to success. Others achieve victory through power strikes—each swing is meant to send the opponent's head into the stands.
Silva is none of these.
His early career was based on a forward-moving, aggressive style. Far more reckless and lacking nuance, it was eventually superseded by the style established during his UFC reign: controlled and methodical counterstriking.
"The Spider" of present day lures opponents into his trap.
By the time opponents have started to find a rhythm, he has already set the gears in motion for their demise. At UFC 126, Vitor Belfort was billed as the speed striker who would outpace and outpunch Silva like none had before him.
It didn't pan out that way.
At the climax of the fight, Belfort hesitated long enough to fall victim to Silva's misdirection—he failed to see that the champion's foot was swiftly approaching his chin. Moment's later, Belfort collapsed to the canvas and was finished off with ground strikes.
Silva's willingness to throw such an unorthodox kick originates from his ability to avoid most critical strikes coming his way. In an exchange shortly before the knockout, Belfort blitzed forward with a well-timed combination. If his adversary had been anyone other than Silva, Belfort might have landed on something more than air.
The Spider is nothing short of a master in evasion tactics.
He ducks, dodges and weaves past even the most impressive combinations. At UFC 101, Forrest Griffin felt the frustration of having the middleweight champion within reach for the briefest moment, only to have slip him through his fingers in an instant. He later spoke about the entire debacle with a humorous outlook:
I tried to punch him. He literally moved his head out of the way and looked at me like I was stupid for doing it. He looked at me like, "Why would you do such a stupid thing? Did you really think you were going to hit me? What a stupid thing to think, you slow, slow white boy." And then he hit me.
Rich Franklin was twice caught in Silva's chaotic Muay Thai plum, with knees flying at odd angles toward his face.
Stephan Bonnar's fate was sealed with a brutal knee to the chest. When James Irvin was foolish enough to attempt a kick, Silva caught the leg and dropped him with a laser-guided strike to the face.
When Silva flipped the switch, no one evaded his deadly strikes. They didn't fare well when they tried to return the favor, either.
With such unrivaled striking, Silva's ground game is rarely discussed. Nevertheless, it warrants consideration.
Awarded a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in 2006 from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Silva knows that fighting on the canvas is well within his comfort zone. Otherwise, many of his flashier maneuvers might have been muted in fear of someone taking him down.
At UFC 67, grappling ace Travis Lutter never expected Silva to catch him in a brilliant triangle. Olympic wrestler Dan Henderson looked stunned when Silva trapped him in a rear-naked choke at UFC 82.
In both fights, Silva should have been at a disadvantage on the ground—but what he should be a weakness rarely ends up being one inside the cage.
Time and again, his grappling prowess has secured victory in times of desperate need. Just consider what the outcome of UFC 117 might have been were it not for his ability to finish from his back.
Silva's first meeting with Chael Sonnen didn't display his otherworldly reflexes or blinding speed. Absent were his usual striking flourishes.
Instead, MMA fans witnessed Silva get hit 320 times—a number greater than the cumulative average of all of his previous fights.
In a time of dire need, he wasn't saved by anything he could execute on his feet. Rather, he salvaged a potential loss by relying on his seldom used BJJ training. When the time came, Silva executed a flawless triangle armbar by seizing wrist control, stuffing Sonnen's hand toward his own chest and tossing his legs up to finish the submission.
The fact that he can stop top-tier fighters with striking or grappling adds yet another dynamic to his unstoppable assault.
Long before his reign under the Zuffa banner, Silva was just another prospect from Curitiba, Brazil.
The idea seems bizarre in retrospect. How could a fighter so legendary have ever been ordinary amongst his peers?
Armed with a Judo black belt, professional boxing experience and some capoeira, Silva made his professional MMA debut in 1997. With his roots in the Chute Boxe Academy, he progressed toward his first crowning achievement: defeating Hayato Sakurai to become the Shooto middleweight champion.
That was 12 years ago.
In the time between that initial championship and his UFC run, Silva fought for another three organizations over 13 fights—with the most noteworthy instance being his now-infamous loss to Ryo Chonan via flying scissor heel hook. The defeat marked the last time Silva would decisively lose a fight.
That was eight-and-a-half years ago.
He made up for the lapse by stopping Tony Fryklund with a move he conjured up after watching an action movie. Hearing him explain his inspiration for the upward elbow knockout reinforces just how unique he is.
Chris Leben served as Silva's inaugural victim in the UFC, where he would notch 16 consecutive UFC victories and counting, including 11 knockouts, three submissions and two decisions.
He can always dip into a library of tricks used in previous fights. If he runs out of innovative techniques, it's no concern—he just creates more on the fly.
With such a storied history, it's no surprise that Silva fights as if he's unconcerned with the outcome of any given bout. He told MMAFighting.com:
I think what’s most important is to set good examples for those kids who watch UFC and the kids that are coming up. And whatever I should have done in the sport, I've already done. Win or lose, I’ve already done everything there is to do. Now it’s just a matter of doing what I love to do.
Fans are fortunate that Silva has yet to get tired of doing what he does best.
Raw talent, unparalleled athleticism and years of dedicated training aren't the only factors for his dominance—making a home in one of MMA's premier gyms also has distinct advantages.
Here is a little known fact: Silva was on the verge of retirement after his loss to Daiju Takase at Pride 26.
Disparaged by the defeat, Silva approached mentor and training partner Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a state of desperation. He now attributes the revitalization of his career to the wisdom and guidance of Nogueira in that time of need.
The two men later founded Blackhouse MMA and eventually wrangled some of MMA's biggest names. The current roster includes both Nogueira brothers, Lyoto Machida, Roger Gracie and Melvin Manhoef.
When the cage door closes, Silva may indeed be alone. But he fights knowing that his skills were sharpened at Blackhouse MMA.
Brief recap: Anderson Silva is the most dangerous striker in UFC history and possesses the ability to submit even the most experienced grapplers. He honed his striking and ground game over the course of 16 years and, as of late, trains at one of the best MMA gyms on the planet.
What does all that amount to?
The most confident fighter in the history of the sport.
Silva appears indifferent to any opponent's aggression because he's probably seen worse.
He stood with his back against the fence as Stephan Bonnar unloaded with everything he had not because of a lack of respect, but because that specific challenge piqued his interest at that specific time.
Silva fights in the moment. He has transcended stats and mere legacy because both are too commonplace for his achievements.
Victory is inconsequential if a dominant striker steps in front of him. At that moment, Silva is more interested in just how he'll be the one to attain the knockout. Swap that striker with a grappler, and he'll consider the angles and maneuvers that will result in a submission.
The extraordinary has somehow become Silva's ordinary. Accolades and praise rain down upon him, and he pretends to shrug them off.
Don't buy it.
Whether or not he's willing to admit it, his status as MMA's G.O.A.T. has crafted the final touch on his career.
Silva is unstoppable because his past, present and future won't have it any other way. His championship is on the line for anyone willing to argue otherwise.