If it’s merely a formality, it feels like an important one.
We’ve known all along Anderson Silva was working his way back to the cage—we had the grainy, Loch Ness Monster-style videos to prove it—but on Monday the former middleweight champion’s Los Angeles-based doctors made it official, clearing him to resume full MMA training, according to a report by MMA Junkie’s Steven Marrocco.
Even for the most cynical fight fans, this is terrific news. It casts Silva a world away from the ugly scene at UFC 168 last December, when it seemed his career might be over after he broke his leg throwing a low kick at Chris Weidman.
It should come as no shock that the consensus greatest mixed martial artist of all time is ahead of our original recovery prognoses, that the UFC is targeting his return for the end of 2014 or early 2015 and that 22 days after turning 39 years old he remains fully focused on a comeback.
Exactly what that comeback will look like still remains as enigmatic as the GOAT himself.
For the first time in his 17-year career, Silva will be coming off back-to-back losses (albeit unorthodox ones) and for the first time since 2006 he’ll re-enter a 185-pound division where he is not the undisputed king. As a man who was predictably unpredictable during even the prime years of his career, there is simply no telling how he’ll approach these uncharted waters.
Will he come back like gangbusters, demanding an immediate third bout with Weidman, assuming the 29-year-old New York native is still the champion? Will he take an easily winnable return fight against someone like Michael Bisping or Gegard Mousasi? Will he still aspire to be the best in the world or segue into a new stage of his career—one where he chases one-off superfights for both fun and profit?
He wouldn’t be totally out of line choosing the first option. Weidman may have stolen his mojo as the middleweight division’s most powerful force, but there was enough weirdness in their previous meetings to justify a third fight. Silva is still officially ranked as the UFC’s No. 1 contender at 185 pounds, and if matchmakers are looking for someone to fill Weidman’s dance card near the end of the year, the Spider would certainly be the most lucrative choice.
But in typical Silva fashion, he’s given us precious little indication where his head is at as he begins this new phase. He continues to talk idly (and a little wistfully, now) about his desire to box Roy Jones Jr. He’s even mentioned becoming a cop, and, as always, it’s tough to know how serious he is about any of it.
We’ve seen so many different incarnations of Silva during his 18-fight UFC career that it’s impossible to tell which version we might see of him in the future. Maybe he’ll be the merciless assassin who took out Chris Leben, Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin. Maybe he’ll be the listless ghost who slumped to lackluster wins over Patrick Cote and Thales Leites. Maybe he’ll be the audacious clown who eventually got himself knocked out by Weidman at UFC 162.
Maybe, now out of his athletic prime and coming back from horrifying injury, he'll be a shadow of his former self, though that doesn't seem like the way to bet.
We’ll have few answers until the UFC and Silva can set a hard and fast date and come up with an opponent they can agree on. Even then, it’ll be awhile until we have any notion of what Silva has left at nearly 40 years old.
For now, though, we know for sure he’s coming back. That seems like a big enough victory for a slow day in May.