The Greatest Highlights of Anderson Silva's Legendary UFC Career

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2019

The Greatest Highlights of Anderson Silva's Legendary UFC Career

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    Anderson Silva's legendary career is not over yet. He will step back into the Octagon on Saturday at UFC 237 to battle Jared Cannonier in the co-main event.

    But all is not rosy when Silva fights. He is 1-5 (1 NC) since 2013. The no-contest was a win over Nick Diaz that was overturned when he tested positive for steroids, (h/t MMAJunkie.com's Mike Bohn and John Morgan), and the win was a hotly debated decision against Derek Brunson at UFC 208.

    Still, Silva is a fighter everyone is anxious to see perform. When he returned from a USADA suspension (h/t ESPN.com's Ariel Helwani) at UFC 234, Silva put on a show with Israel Adesanya. Although it was a losing effort, it was a fun fight that showed he still can perform and entertain.

    And he has given us all a lot of entertainment.

    Silva's run in the UFC was nothing short of amazing. His charm outside the cage was even overshadowed by his skills inside it.

    He burst onto the scene with utter devastation and helped the UFC ascend to the top of the sport. He became one of the company's biggest stars and gained a legion of fans along the way. Even if he cannot do it one more time on Saturday, Silva's legacy of combat brilliance will live on.

    Here are Silva's shining moments inside the UFC Octagon during his reign atop the sport.

A Perfect Debut

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    Event: Ultimate Fight Night 5 (June 28, 2006)

    Chris Leben was an iron-chinned The Ultimate Fighter veteran on the brink of a title shot. His straight-forward approach made him a fan favorite. Everything was lining up for Leben, and he promised to send the new UFC signing "...back to Japan where the competition is a little easier..." in the pre-fight video package.

    Anderson Silva had previously been in Japan's biggest MMA promotion, PRIDE, years earlier. After dominating in Britain's Cage Rage promotion, he finally made his way to the UFC. He was a much-heralded signing, but few would be able to predict the dominance that was about to come.

    Least of all Leben. Silva's debut lasted all of 49 seconds.

    Silva was far too slick and accurate for Leben. UFC color commentator would coin the term "ballet of violence" in regards to Silva, and the brutalization of Leben is a beautiful example of that phrase. Leben's chin took some incredible shots in previous fights, but Silva's pinpoint accuracy rocked his world.

    In 49 seconds, he leveled Leben with punches, kicks and knees. It was a complete striking performance.

    The sub-minute victory launched Silva's stardom in the United States. He got his chance to debut in front of a big television audience, and he capitalized with a memorable performance that shot him right into a title shot.

The Destruction of Rich Franklin

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    Event: UFC 64 (October 14, 2006)

    Rich Franklin was next up for Silva, and it was for the middleweight title. On paper, this was going to be a showdown of epic proportions. In the cage, however, it was another swift symphony of destruction.

    In two minutes and 59 seconds, Silva became the middleweight king—that would be the start of his streak to make him one of the greatest fighters in MMA history.

    Silva got the Thai plum early in the fight and attacked Franklin's body. When they finally broke apart, Franklin was already wearing the damage. He took deep, heavy breaths. Anyone watching the fight could tell that it was already over because of the damage he took to the midsection.

    But Silva wasn't done.

    He got the plum again and rearranged Franklin's nose. A knee up the middle connected and broke the champion's nose to finish the fight.

    The ease in which Silva won the title was shocking and still is. Franklin was at the top of his game and remained a viable top-tier fighter for years after this fight. But Silva was a class ahead. The complete destruction, which was repeated at UFC 77 in Franklin's hometown of Cincinnati, was astonishing.

Submitting Travis Lutter

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    Event: UFC 67 (February 3, 2007)

    Silva was known to have a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but his primary art was his stand-up. How good was his jiu-jitsu? No one really knew. He had lost via submission twice before his UFC stint began. At UFC 67, he was taking on one of the best submission stylists in the division in Travis Lutter.

    The fight was billed as a striker vs. grappler matchup because that is what it looked to be.

    Silva showed he wasn't scared of the ground. Silva flew with a flying knee early in the first round. Lutter took it well, caught his leg and put Silva on his back. It was the best case for Lutter. He got Silva on his back early in the fight.

    Silva got back up briefly, but Lutter took him back down. Silva attacked with an armbar that forced Lutter to back out of his guard, but he was able to re-establish position again. Lutter even had Silva mounted in the first.

    At the beginning of the second round, Lutter put Silva on the ground again after Silva tried a low kick. Lutter stood, and Silva was able to connect with an upkick, and as Lutter tried to get back to guard, he unwittingly fell right into a triangle choke.

    Lutter did his best to survive as Silva had it locked up, and after a few elbows, he eventually tapped.

    The performance was the first time in the UFC that Silva showed he was a complete fighter and had fantastic submission abilities to go along with his fear-inducing striking. The aura of "The Spider" grew that night.

Unifying the UFC and PRIDE Titles

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    Event: UFC 82 (March 1, 2008)

    The UFC had purchased PRIDE in 2007, but they were still using its name to help market fights. Former PRIDE welterweight and middleweight champion, the equivalent to the UFC's middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, Dan Henderson was the center of that marketing.

    They booked him against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a title unification bout. Henderson came up just short. Then he was booked against Silva to unify those belts as well. He would lose to the UFC champion a second time.

    Henderson was able to get Silva to the mat in the first round, but he didn't do much damage. The champion rode out the round and rebounded in his corner.

    The champion's striking was much crisper in the second round, and it hurt Henderson. The challenger sought to get the fight back to the floor, but Silva defended and ended up on top. Henderson would give up his back where Silva then applied the body triangle to lock down the position.

    Silva found the rear-naked choke and finished the fight.

    Once again, Silva beat his opponent where they were supposed to have the advantage, and in doing so he also defended the UFC. It was a stellar night in Columbus that supplanted Silva as the best 185-pound fighter in the world without debate.

Humiliating Forrest Griffin

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    Event: UFC 101 (August 8, 2009)

    The co-main event to UFC 101 was a light heavyweight showdown between Silva and Forrest Griffin. For the second time in his UFC career, Silva was moving up in weight. However, unlike against James Irvin, he was fighting a true elite-level fighter in Griffin.

    The question going into the fight was whether the size difference would be too much to overcome. Could Griffin just bully Silva around?

    The answer was a resounding "No".

    Silva did not just beat Griffin that night. He did not eke out a win. He flat-out embarrassed him.

    The middleweight champion dropped Griffin on three separate occasions. The second time was a beautiful defensive display where he dodged every strike Griffin threw and followed it with an accurate rebuttal. The third and final knockdown was even more disrespectful. As he was backing away, Silva pelted Griffin right on the chin with a right hand.

    Griffin ran to the back before the decision could even be read.

    Silva annihilated the former world champion. It was one of the cleanest and most awe-inspiring performances of Silva's MMA career.

The Greatest Comeback

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    Event: UFC 117 (August 7, 2010)

    Silva entered UFC 117 with a rib injury, but few knew of it until after the fight. The documentary Like Water chronicled the lead-up to the fight and showed the pain Silva endured.

    It was another striker vs. grappler battle, but by now, many were not giving the challenger, Chael Sonnen, a chance. And why would they? We had seen Silva dominate everyone to this point, and Sonnen was a straight-forward grappler.

    The mood inside Oracle Arena in Oakland began with the anticipation of Silva earning another knockout. But the first round quickly shifted the feeling to a potential historic upset.

    Sonnen clocked Silva on the feet and took the fight to the ground. Repeatedly. It was stunning. And it began to happen round after round. Silva was offering little in return. Sonnen was on his way to becoming the middleweight champion.

    Sonnen tagged Silva again in the opening moments of the fifth round that put Silva on the canvas. He worked from the guard and looked to be riding his way to the championship. Sonnen's big mistake was allowing Silva to hold onto his right wrist.

    After nearly a minute, Silva finally found the moment to attack and slipped his leg over the right arm of Sonnen for the triangle choke. Sonnen tried to defend, and Silva added in an armbar. Sonnen tapped. In the heat of the exchange of a long, grueling fight, Sonnen looked to continue to fight, but the referee stepped in. After the referee explained to Sonnen that he tapped, the wrestler muttered, "I believe you to the official." The replay confirmed the tap.

    The come-from-behind victory may be the most important piece to Silva's legacy as a champion. No one was expecting Sonnen to do what he did, but as it was happening, no one was expecting Silva to do what he did. It was a wild turn of events.

    Silva kept his streak alive and beat his biggest rival in one of the most classic title fights in UFC history.

The Front Kick Heard Round the World

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    Event: UFC 126 (February 5, 2011)

    After Silva's amazing comeback over Sonnen, he was given Vitor Belfort. A fan's dream matchup that had long been awaited by the time it came around at UFC 126.

    Belfort's lightning-fast hands against Silva's precision and technique.

    Belfort threatened early and took Silva down off an errant head kick. He barely missed connecting with a violent right hook. Silva popped back to his feet. Silva dodged a couple more wild punches from Belfort before resetting. And then... it happened.

    Silva was looking downward and fired a front kick that connected flush to the jaw of Belfort. Joe Rogan shouted the now famous call, "He front-kicked him in the face!"

    Belfort crumpled to the mat, and Silva laced in a couple of extra shots to finish the fight. But it was the front kick that captivated fans around the world. Everything about that front kick has become iconic in MMA. The highlight, the still-frame picture and Rogan's call.

    If there is any moment that will remain as the centerpiece of Silva's career, it is this kick. More so than the crazy comeback over Sonnen, this kick symbolized why fans loved Silva and the sport itself. Silva has given us something beautiful and expected many times over, but nothing compares to the front kick that torched Belfort.