(“It is true greatness, to have in one the frailty of a man, and the security of a God.” – Sir Francis Bacon / Image via Stephen Torreno)
For as long as man has competed against one another, man has been keeping score. What was once recorded on a stone tablet is now saved on a laptop somewhere in the annals of sports history. A quick search for “greatest of all time” will reveal a list of several sports, both familiar and alien. Click on ‘Basketball’ and you’re redirected to a page for Michael Jordan, ‘Hockey’ for Wayne Gretzky. When you reach the ‘M’s,’ somewhere between ‘Marathon Running’ and ‘Motocross,’ you’ll find the sport that connects us all — Mixed Martial Arts. One more click of the mouse and you’re staring at the image of unequivocal excellence, and he goes by the name Anderson Silva.
The unassuming Brazilian stares back at you, championship belt draped over his shoulder. If you didn’t know any better, you’d never in a thousand years peg him as the guy who’s left a pile of broken bodies from multiple weight classes in the wake of his seven-year, seventeen-fight win streak. Among the casualties are five (current and/or future) members of the illustrious UFC Hall of Fame. Those battle-tested titans of the arena were no match for “The Spider.” How could they be? The UFC middleweight champion posses otherworldly skills and ability, and an uncanny penchant for violence. Which reminds me; one of the greatest things about modern record keeping is the ability to relive history through streaming video. Check this out:
During Silva’s sensational career, he’s amassed a spectacular number of UFC records. And while a summary of his accomplishments fail to do his legacy any justice, they’re too remarkable not to mention. The 38-year-old Muay Thai savant owns records for the most knockdowns landed (17), longest winning streak (16), and longest title defense streak (10). The São Paulo native is the most accurate striker in the organization, landing 67.8% of the significant strikes he hurls his opponent’s way. What’s more is that 63% of his opponent’s significant strikes touch nothing but air. Did you know he’s tied with Joe Lauzon for the record for most post-fight bonuses (12) and he’s been awarded Knockout of the Night honors (6) more than any fighter to have ever stepped in the Octagon? His numbers are outstanding, but they only tell half the story.
When talking about a fighter’s greatness, you always recount the reasons he’ll be remembered for generations to come. For Silva, an unparalleled fighter with a unique combination of grace, speed, precision, power, artistry, and fundamental soundness in multiple disciplines, it’s difficult knowing just where to start. We could talk about his dominance, records, or any of the “Holy S***!” moments he’s given us, of which there are many. Instead, let’s talk about the perseverance displayed in his extraordinary comeback at UFC 117 against Chael Sonnen and the rivalry that lead to the UFC’s biggest rematch since Liddell vs. Ortiz 2.
During the summer of 2010, after months of listening to a previously unimaginable amount of trash talk, Anderson Silva was locked in steel cage with the man who insulted his credentials, country, and wife. If you expected to see Silva throw Sonnen a beating so bad his mother wouldn’t recognize him, you were sorely disappointed. Quite the opposite occurred at Oakland’s Oracle Arena that night. We all know the story by now. For four and a half rounds, Chael Sonnen treated the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt like a flank steak, pounding and hammering away until was good and tender. Mere mortals (with healthy, uninjured ribs) would’ve tossed in the towel between rounds, but not the champ. He was hell bent on victory…and he got it in the closing frame of the bout when he trapped the American in a triangle choke. Silva’s warrior spirit and unrelenting will to succeed not only shocked the fight world, but also gave way to arguably the most anticipated fight in the history of the promotion.
Two years later fans were treated to another epic showdown. At first, the middleweight tilt looked to be a rerun of their initial encounter, with Sonnen dominating Silva from bell to bell of the opening round. Unfortunately for the gangster from West Linn, Oregon, the champion capitalized on his missed spinning backfist in the second with a vicious ariel attack and never let off the gas. Anderson couldn’t have penned the storybook ending any better than what played out in Vegas that night. During his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Silva forgave Sonnen for his anti-Brazil rhetoric, going as far as to invite him to a barbeque, and then walked back to the locker room the undisputed baddest man on the planet.
They say heroes are remembered and legends never die. I hope that’s true. I hope all of our great-great grandchildren know of the intense feud between Silva and Sonnen and the last-second miracle that took place on the blood stained canvas in Oakland. By then, all sports records will have vacated their homes on Dell or Mac hard drives and moved to the cloud — a much cushier and convenient place to reside.
But what about Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones, you ask? Have they not reigned supreme in their respective divisions, fought legendary battles, overcome adversity, and racked up their own impressive stats? Of course they have. But no matter what the numbers say in the end, Silva will still come out on top when it comes to mesmerizing performances and likeability.
A quick word association game helps confirm this. Someone says “GSP” and you immediately think “boring.” They say “Jon Jones” and you think “spurious.” But when someone utters the name Anderson Silva, you immediately think of greatness. And not just individuals either — blue chip sponsors like Nike, Philips, and Burger King agree as they have all attached their sails to his ship. Fans, fighters, and media alike generally agree that “The Spider” is the pound-for-pound king. He’s doesn’t serve up lukewarm leftovers like the champ a weight class below nor does he polarize the crowd like the champ a weight class above. As if that weren’t enough, Silva is known for his charity work such as visiting sick kids in the hospital. In a sense, he’s everything a promoter, fan, or writer could ever ask for.
When DMX’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” hits the speakers in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas this Saturday night, as Anderson Silva walks out for the main event at UFC 162 against undefeated Chris Weidman, the world will watch with great anticipation to see if history repeats itself or if it will be made anew. But what if I told you it doesn’t matter whose hand Herb Dean raises at the end of the night? Because it really doesn’t. Silva has nothing left to prove. In a sport where participants risk career-ending injuries most days of the week, the champion has been a force to be reckoned with for the better part of twenty years. Savor it, enjoy it, and most of all, appreciate it. No matter what happens after Silva and Weidman touch gloves in the middle of the Octagon, it won’t take away a modicum of legacy from Brazil’s Spiderman.