First, there was the sound.
If I am somehow lucky enough to live to a ripe and forgetful old age—and even if that old age is filled with joy and laughter—I do not imagine a time will come when I forget the sound that forced the conclusion of UFC 168. It was nothing and yet it was everything, at once confusing and horrifying and shocking and depressing.
I have lived some days, and I have seen some things. As a combat medic deployed to Iraq in 2003, I saw plenty of the stuff I'd like to forget. I guess I'll spend the rest of my days trying to forget them, just like I know I'll spend the rest of my days (and especially the next two days) trying to forget the sound that likely ended the career of the greatest pound for pound fighter of my generation.
If you have never heard a leg broken in person—and this is not something I recommend you seek out, for it is not one of life's great pleasures—then you may count yourself as one of the lucky ones. It is the visuals that often stick with us.
And make no mistake about it; when the realization of what happened hit me, and when I saw the first of what would be many gruesome slow motion replays, I looked down at the table sitting in front of me and the computer resting there. I packed my things, never again looking up to see the awful thing that elicited oohs and aahs and perhaps a few upset stomachs among the fans in attendance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
I did not need to see it again. I never need to see it again. I heard it, after all, and I knew what it represented.
There was the sound, and then there was silence. It was confusion, mostly likely, and it lasted for roughly three seconds. It lasted until Silva fell backwards and screamed in a manner that curdled my blood and sent shivers coursing through my entire body. Three seconds is all it took, from a sound akin to a piece of lumber snapping to a scream of anguish.
Freak injuries are nothing new in mixed martial arts. I still remember the vivid nature of Corey Hill's broken leg on December 10, 2008. Until Saturday night, I never imagined an injury surpassing the one suffered by Hill. That was a stomach-turning moment, just as this one was.
Hill's injury may have been more visually gruesome, though it's nigh impossible to assign importance to things of this nature. But Silva's injury will have the most lasting effect. The legendary fighter may return from this, but I do not imagine he will.
And thus, the last time we may ever see this prodigous talent was lying on his back, clutching his mangled leg, screaming in agony that couldn't be comforted by the swarm of friends and medical personnel surrounding him.
It is not the way we wanted to see Silva go out. Even if he weren't able to beat Chris Weidman—and from what we'd seen in the first round, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Weidman was on his way to another victory over the former champion—well, we wanted something better for him. Something full of grace. Something befitting a man of such lofty skill and stature.
In his legendary news report Death of a Racehorse, the great sportswriter W.C. Heinz spoke of Air Lift, Full Brother of Assault, a racehorse who suffered a horrendous leg injury and was subsequently put to death in front of the race fans in attendance. It was brutal and yet it may just be the most perfect piece of sports writing ever put to paper. Here are the final frames:
They moved the curious back, the rain falling faster now, and they moved the colt over close to a pile of loose bricks. Gilman had the halter and Catlett had the gun, shaped like a bell with the handle at the top. This bell he placed, the crowd silent, on the colt's forehead, just between the eyes. The colt stood still and then Catlett, with the hammer in his other hand, struck the handle of the bell. There was a short, sharp sound and the colt toppled onto his left side, his eyes staring, his legs straight out, the free legs quivering.
"Aw ----" someone said.
That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two vets removing the broken bones as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rushed for the cover of the stables, leaving alone on his side near the pile of bricks, the rain running off his hide, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Air Lift, son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault.
I am by no means comparing the great Silva to Air Lift, full brother of Assault. But as I sit here, hours removed from what I saw and trying to reflect on it while also trying to forget it entirely, I can't help but wonder what Heinz saw that day, beyond what we can read in his piece.
What stuck with him on that day? What horrors did he take into the night, when he tried to sleep but kept hearing the sound of the broken leg and the gun and the end of a horse's life?
I know that I will not soon forget this night, and not for reasons I'd like. I know I'm going to think back on Silva, during the days and months to come and during a Hall of Fame induction that has never been more deserving, and I'm going to remember.
I'm going to remember the sound. And I'm going to remember the unfortunate way that the greatest of all time went out, not with the dignity that should be afforded him, but with an awful scream and the worst of outcomes. For Silva deserved more. He deserved better.