When the soon-to-be 44-year-old Anderson Silva was announced as the next opponent for rising phenom Israel Adesanya at UFC 234, a mixture of confusion and worry was the initial reaction of most who had watched the man do work in his prime.
Not seen since the admittedly-dire UFC 208, Silva will have been sitting out for two years by the time UFC 234 comes around.
A contentious decision victory over Derek Brunson was the outcome on the night but a blind man could have told you that the Brazilian’s skills had well and truly diminished noticeably.
Age, as they say, catches up with everyone eventually and to find the last fight Silva recorded an official win in before that night you would be forced to jump all the way back to UFC 153 in 2012 – where he destroyed Stephan Bonnar in under one round.
There’s no shame in his late-career slump, though, but when you’re over six years removed from your last official W – it’s clear that your twilight years are upon you.
Speaking to Joe Rogan in the direct aftermath of his most recent fight, the then-42-year-old Silva explained how torn he had become between his love for combat and the harsh realities of his limitations as a veteran.
“I put in my heart – the whole time. Sometimes I have a pain in my leg, pain in my back.
“I know I’m too old for fighting. The guys in here are too fast for me, [too] strong. But I put my heart [into it] because fighting is my life. Fighting is my heart. This is me.” (via Bleacher Report)
The UFC’s official YouTube account uploaded the fight that saw Silva claim the middleweight title all the way back in 2006 as a nod to The Spider when he was at his devastating best.
In facing Israel Adesanya, Silva will be taking on one of the game’s most lethal technicians. A man who is fresh off of a complete and utter destruction of Derek Brunson at UFC 230 and one who many are picking to make a name for himself this weekend by shutting down the legend in brutal fashion.
The question here is why Anderson would agree to this fight when he himself has very publicly admitted his own physical attributes now pale in comparison to the younger, hungrier lions in waiting.
If money is the primary motivator (something that his repeated call-outs of Conor McGregor would hint at), fighting Adesanya does not present the right balance of risk/reward.
Anderson could no doubt make money fighting anyone and to be honest – with the exception of the champ, Yoel Romero and perhaps Paulo Costa – there aren’t many matchups at 185lbs right now that carry a higher risk of being finished than the one he has taken with Stylebender.
Money is definitely a factor, of course, but to be honest, the thing that is driving Silva here became a lot clearer upon viewing things from a stylistic perspective.
Chael Sonnen mused on the possibility that Anderson had accepted the fight with Israel based on the virtually non-existent threat of takedowns and the promise, for once, that he could test himself against a technical striker – like himself – in a fight that will present him with a matchup he has no doubt dreamed of for years.
“Anderson accepted this fight for a reason. Anderson is not a dumb guy. Anderson is able to watch this guy and go – wow, this guy is a kickboxing talent, an MMA future superstar – without question. Does everything everything right, says everything right, got the right attitude with just enough of a chip on his shoulder – just enough anger.
“But he’s also a guy willing to play my game. I want to stand up with guys. I do not want to go into every fight worried about a takedown, worried about a guy trying to get his hands on me, slow this down because he doesn’t want to trade punches and kicks with me.”
While he disagrees with some of the comparisons made between the former-kickboxer and himself, Silva confirmed that he is genuinely excited about the idea of coming up against a rangy, technical, and fluid striker such as himself.
“I believe Israel is not my new version. But I think this fight is very interesting, because I believe this is the first time I have the opponent (with) the same style.
“That’s a good test for my martial arts skills.” (via MMAJunkie)
It’s a risk that could well prove to have violent consequences for the former middleweight champion.
One would assume that the rising-talent that is Adesanya will take home a highlight-reel finish in a venue relatively close to his home in New Zealand and with that, he will use the name-power of Silva to build his own steadily-growing status within the sport.
But what if Anderson can pull off the unthinkable?
What if the 43-year-old can turn back the clock and use the comfort offered by a matchup like this to truly express himself inside that octagon and shock the world.
Anderson Silva is a fighter, a master of the stand-up, and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black-belt but above all else, he is the perfect example of an artist at-work inside the cage.
A win for The Spider here is unlikely, and in some ways, it would be wrong of us to expect that of him, but make no mistake, Silva seems to be delighted to be matched up with this man – no matter how lethal a kickboxer he is.
I suppose all we can do now is wait and see what happens.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena