To understand just how dominant Anderson Silva has been in the UFC, you really need to take a full day and watch all of his fights, back-to-back. In doing so, you will be shocked at the men he disposed of, especially if you have been following the sport avidly for more than five years.
Be it his Floyd Mayweather-esque destruction of Chris Leben, his utter dominations of the always underrated Rich Franklin, his inspirational rallies against Chael Sonnen; if you watch it all, you see the passage of years while Silva remains constant—as in, constantly so far above the rest that it almost looks unfair.
He wasn’t just good; he was fantastic in every sense of the word.
But when Chris Weidman managed to defeat him in their first fight at UFC 162, there were more than a few people (fighters, writers and fans alike) who were not surprised at all.
In Weidman, Silva was facing what looked to be his true foil: a young fighter with a great wrestling base, a high submission acumen and serious power in his hands.
And most of all, he wasn’t in the least bit afraid or intimidated by Silva—at least not in any way that hampered his performance.
Because of all this, those who were vocal in their predictions of a Weidman victory were not just looking to call an upset for its own sake. They saw something in Silva’s past fights that seemed to indicate a lack of desire, perhaps, or a slowing down of the machine that had ruled the middleweight division for so long.
He was getting distracted, it seemed to some, and moreover, he was just getting old.
Thus, Weidman went out and defeated Silva in nearly all aspects of their short yet sublime bout. Silva didn’t win a round, nor did he win the fight; he was outworked, out-grappled and finally knocked out cold.
It wasn’t supposed to go like that, but it reminded us that this is a sport that will eventually surpass all champions. It will be rejuvenated by fresh faces and young blood while the greats of today become the elder statesmen of tomorrow.
And that is where Silva is heading, if you look at the history of the sport.
Of course, his fans (the legions that they are) will dismiss this as nothing more than bitter talk from either a “hater” or a writer desperate to get reads by “insulting” a legend.
But if it were that simple, history would not paint such a damning picture of the passion plays of older men (such as Roy Jones Jr.) who linger too long on a field destined to be ruled by younger men with faster swords.
Far too many people act as if fighters like Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Bernard Hopkins are the new norm; the truth is they are grand and unique exceptions to the norm because they did not ignore their age, they adapted to it. Just because they managed to fight well into their 40s does not mean everyone else can, be they named Anderson Silva or not.
For every fighter that fights and succeeds on a serious level past 37 years of age, there are a hundred (or more) talented and hungry fighters of the same or younger age who cannot. Their failure is not based on a lack of dedication or desire; it’s based on the system of nature that says with age comes the benefit of wisdom and the diminishing of the physical.
After losing to Weidman twice, those in Silva’s camp were appropriately optimistic about his return while still being respectful of the fact that Silva’s future, as always, was in his hands alone.
The realism stopped when they talked about a third fight with Weidman for Silva’s comeback bout. To be honest, Silva is no longer in the position to be fighting for the title without qualifying himself by winning at least two bouts against Top 10 competition.
The Silva of old really doesn’t exist anymore; the Silva we have now is honestly an unknown quantity, he’s got all the same skills as his younger self, but his physical gifts have aged, as all men must.
When added to the fact that he suffered a horrific leg injury, it seems clear that he should be required to do some honest work against fighters of serious note before being awarded another chance to fight the champion.
And to be honest, Silva probably wouldn’t have a problem with that. Right now his main nemesis seems to be his leg injury, not Weidman. Fighting two opponents who are ranked in the Top 10 would doubtless be fine with him.
But what are the odds of his success, and what would a successful comeback look like for such a man?
Obviously, the idea of Silva reclaiming the title would be the ultimate coup over the specters of older age and injury. If Weidman still has the belt in such a scenario, then Silva’s chances of victory are slim. Weidman has a style tailor-made to defeat Silva, he is not afraid of Silva at all, and once again, he’s the younger man.
When considering Silva facing anyone for the title, one of the first things that comes to mind is that Silva will no longer be enjoying the once-thought unassailable psychological advantage he used to.
During the height of his power, Silva seemed so untouchable that his opponents acted as if he were a mirage. They second-guessed every movement they made and treated every flinch and gesture of Silva as if it had fight-ending capacity.
In his bouts against Vitor Belfort, Stephan Bonnar, Patrick Cote, Forrest Griffin and others, it seemed as if they were beaten before the fight had already begun. It’s hard enough to defeat a fighter as skilled as Silva without conceding to him a kind of mythic invulnerability.
Now, fighters know Silva is quite touchable and as beatable as the next man.
The idea of future fighters deferring to him and his former air of utter superiority runs contrary to the history of the combative sports. That history has shown, time and again, that once a great fighter is revealed as being “human,” his opposition become much bolder than before; each of them looking to claim dominion over an aspect of his legacy by proving themselves superior to his established and once-feared name.
It’s a common theme among all great fighters; it’s just new to MMA because Silva has honestly been one of the very first who looked like something more than great. In professional boxing (the older sibling to MMA if there ever was one), fighters like Silva have come and gone many times, but without the tenure Silva has enjoyed; normally the story is that the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long, but Silva has burned three times as bright for twice as long.
Thus, it’s no wonder that his fans think he is beyond such things as age and diminishing passion; it’s what they’ve come to know as fact for many years. How many times have we seen Silva, the older man in the cage, looking terribly bored against an honestly exceptional opponent, suddenly blow all our minds in a split second, leaving the opposition out cold on the floor?
Up until UFC 162, a Silva title bout had seemed like a one-man show; the other opponent regulated to the undignified and hapless role of footnote to his greatness.
Now things have changed, and everyone knows it. Weidman is the mountain that Silva has thrown himself against, twice, and each time been sent away more broken than the last.
And all the while, Silva is growing older.
Obviously, we as fans of the man can make the distinction between failure of planning and the shackles of age; yet that is of no importance. What is important is that Silva can make that distinction, and to be honest, we don’t know that he can.
In fact, in Weidman, Silva is faced with an opponent that rebuffed his greatest advantages with the kind of ease that we used to assume Silva would aim at his opponents.
Recently, in an interview with SporTV (h/t Fernando Arbex of Bloody Elbow), Silva spoke like a confused man, saying on one had that he wanted to finish all eight fights remaining on his contract, and on the other saying he might not be in the mood to do so.
While longtime fans of the man may be happy to relegate his decision as victories in the bank, the fact is that fighters, even those as great as Silva, have never been well served when their passions were wandering the middle of the road.
“I have eight fights to do yet in my contract,” Silva said. “I want to do all of these fights but I don’t know that I will be in the mood to do this.”
Honestly, this kind of uncertainty is not shocking when one considers just how much Silva has already accomplished. He’s been there, done that, time and again.
Obviously the title belt doesn’t look as shiny to him as it would countless others. How man of them does he own after so many years?
It is an honest question, weighed in equal opposition to the fact his future opponents, hungry and talented, own none and want much.
After seeing Weidman (a fighter with a record of a mere 10-0 at the time) do the unthinkable, the idea that the middleweight division reveres Silva as unbeatable is just not honest.
That all ended when Weidman caught him clowning and knocked him flat on his back.
Even if Weidman loses the title to someone else, Silva will still be facing a champion who wants to keep his title far more than Silva wants to win it.
And then there is the area of his skills and talent. Silva has always been a naturally gifted fighter who could do things most cannot and even after his leg injury, on his worst day he’s still a good deal better than most.
But much of his success was based on his near total control of his environment. Now, he no longer has possession of the field like he once did; fighters have seen him taken down and controlled, and they have seen him knocked out while standing up.
They will be bringing the fight to Silva in ways they have seen succeed, and they will be going hard rather than assuming the role of spectators to their own professional demise.
When he started in the UFC, he wasn’t given anything; he took it with a verve and authority rarely seen. His opponents were not deferring to him because he had not established himself as the greatest fighter of all time; they made him work for it, and in that honest labor we saw Silva shine so very bright.
So, can he do it all again, at the age of 40?
Yes, it’s possible, but it will be much harder the second time around. Given his recent admittances, his heart may not be fully invested in the effort; against younger, hungrier fighters, half measures will on get him half way.
And where the championship is concerned, that leaves him with a long way to go in the twilight of his career.