Anderson Silva's Rapid Return to Ring Sets Unnerving Precedent

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2013

Jul 5, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Anderson Silva (left) faces off with Chris Weidman at today's weighs-in for their UFC fight at the Mandalay Bay Event Center. Silva takes on Weidman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena July 6. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

In one fell swoop on July 6, Anderson Silva went from seemingly the most singularly dominant force in MMA history to man staring down the barrel of his mortality. 

It was on that night, before a packed house at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, that Silva did something he had never done previously—lost in a sanctioned UFC bout.

The man who handed Silva that loss, Chris Weidman, came into the fight expected to share the same fate as every other poor sap who walked into the Octagon versus the Brazilian legend. Everyone from Dan Henderson to Rich Franklin (twice), all the way to the sport's human troll Chael Sonnen had succumbed to the wills of Siva. Whether by knockout, TKO or by choking the last gasping breath from his opponent, Silva was dominant in each of his 16 wins since joining UFC.

Bolstered by the lengthy run of dominance, Silva looked the part of the legend against Weidman. He openly taunted his opponent in the ring. He stood with his hands at his sides, daring Weidman (9-0 coming into the match, by the way) to come and get some respect. It was the type of display you've come to expect from Silva, one he usually follows with an absolute evisceration of his overmatched opponent.

Only that wouldn't happen this time.

At the start of the second round, Silva and Weidman were exchanging blows, the former in a lackadaisical pose, satisfied to spend his match in an English shin-kicking contest. As Weidman backed away to regroup from the exchange, Silva went into full taunt mode, shimmying his shoulders and giving his opponent an opportunity to attack. 

Weidman didn't miss his opportunity. The 29-year-old, deemed "The All-American," laid a Revolutionary War-sized whooping on Silva, clipping him with a left, forcing Silva back a step and then landing the knockout blow with another left. He then climbed on top of Silva's lifeless body, throwing a fusillade of strikes to Silva's skull before the referee stopped the bout.

With that, Silva's invincibility complex was gone. He was without strap for the first time since Oct. 14, 2006. The loss ended the longest title reign in UFC history and perhaps the greatest sustained run of overlordship in the sport's history. The Silva dynasty had fallen.

Like many fighters before him, Silva was quick to work on getting that championship back. Working under the gun of rematch expectations, Silva and Weidman quickly reconciled an agreement and a second fight was on, scheduled for the year-ending UFC 168.

It's easy to get excited about Weidman-Silva II. They're two of the finest fighters in the world, and Weidman's shocking victory earlier this month should help set up one of the biggest pay-per-view hauls in recent memory.

But the precedent Silva is setting returning to the ring is a little nerve-wracking.

As is standard procedure, Silva underwent post-fight testing after being knocked out. He was handed a 45-day suspension, one that prohibits him from any contact for the first 30 days of that period. It's standard stuff. His suspension was 15 days greater than the shortest one doled out that evening, and Silva is eligible to return to training Aug. 6.

The fact that the UFC makes fighters undergo this process is commendable and is one of the many things that have helped Dana White's sport remain at least somewhat clear of the ire of the concussion police. But allowing Silva to get back into the ring five months after his world was set ablaze might be a situation of putting the hype for a rematch over the fighter's long-term safety.

We don't have access to Silva's medical records, so it's impossible to know whether or not he was concussed by Weidman's shot. But suffice it to say that Silva's appearance on Brazilian late-night talk show Agora é Tarde (h/t ESPN) didn't do much to work against a concussion theory. 

“Getting knocked out is the worst,” Silva said. “There are always going to be questions—people want to know what happened, but [when you’re knocked out] you don't remember anything. You black out and that's it.”

Medical science is still in the beta phase of figuring out when concussions happen and how they can be properly treated. But Silva's description of the way he felt—or how he didn't feel, more specifically—reads like a pretty straightforward definition of a concussion. And if Silva was concussed, why is his camp so eager to get the former champion back in the ring?

Even Weidman's camp has shown open concern about the decision-making process that went into scheduling a December fight. Ray Longo, Weidman’s striking coach, appeared on Sherdog Radio this week and openly questioned Silva's decision to push for a rematch so soon:

In boxing, it’s very rare, and these are young guys, like 23-year-old guys [who are] 30-0, if they get knocked out, they’re never the same. This is a 40-year-old man, 39, whatever he is, just got his head bounced off the [canvas]. I mean, even going to the doctor, what doctor is going to recommend, ‘Let’s just jump back in there in a couple of months’?

“I’m actually worried about the guy,” Longo continued. “That’s my gut feeling...That was a pretty bad knockout. That wasn’t like a flash knockdown. He got hurt. He’s not a young kid.”

This could easily be misinterpreted as complete trash talk. But if you hear the context of the interview and take an open-minded approach to what Longo was saying, it's clear his concern was valid. Longo is always going to take the side of his fighter, yet he sounded more like a concerned figure worrying about the sport's biggest star.

And it's an understandable position. Silva is 38. Dominant or not, he's been taking blows to the head for at least 16 years, dating back to his first professional MMA fight in Brazil. As you get older, things tend to slow down. Your body heals at a slower rate. It's more common for fighters to take more time off as they get older—even in MMA, where the standard waiting length isn't as long as in boxing. 

There are other fighters within the MMA spectrum to whom we could compare Silva's knockout. But on an international impact level, none feel quite as apt as Manny Pacquiao. 

When Juan Manuel Marquez sent Pacquiao to the canvas in the meme heard 'round the world, the instant reaction was to wonder if (and when) Pac-Man would fight again. The answer was almost instantly yes, and there were rumblings that Pacquiao would fight twice in 2013. 

Unlike the Silva situation, though, cooler heads prevailed. Pacquiao's camp forced their fighter to take a step back from the sport, scheduling his next bout against Brandon Rios for Nov. 23—almost a full year after being knocked out by Marquez.

Drawing a thick Sharpie line down the center with MMA and boxing is understandably flawed. But Pacquiao and Silva are both legends in their respective sports, both coming off of crushing knockout losses and both very firmly on the back end of their careers. 

The entire sport wants to see Weidman-Silva II. It will be the most anticipated fight of the year, regardless of venue or timing.

So, one just has to ask—what's the rush?


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