Five years ago this week we witnessed the greatest finish ever inside the octagon when Anderson Silva front-kicked Vitor Belfort in the face.
That was the hugely anticipated UFC 126 and one that put the cherry on the cake that celebrates Silva as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Five years on and things aren’t quite the same for the man from Curitiba, Brazil.
Now 41 years of age, it was highly unlikely that the dominant champion would still be ruling the middleweight division at this age. But with four defeats and a no contest since his impressive one-round demolition of Stephen Bonnar in October 2012, his reputation as the greatest of all time diminishes a little more with every defeat.
There’s been an element of misfortune during that time though. His first defeat to Chris Weidman was a deserving one but massively influenced by an unparalleled display of complacency during a championship fight.
When given the chance to right his wrongs in the rematch with the new champion, he had his leg gruesomely broken when Weidman checked a wild leg kick from Silva, bringing that contest to an abrupt and unfortunate early conclusion.
Widespread opinion was we had seen the last of the greatest fighter ever to compete in mixed martial arts. Few at the time would have denied the man that honour. It wasn’t just what he had accomplished and the records he set as champion, it was the manner in which he done it, even if that breathtaking flamboyancy and showmanship was ultimately what cost him his title.
The criticism of his performance as disrespectful and foolish against Weidman at UFC 162 is a passive, ignorant analysis of Silva’s career. He took a chance, all in the name of entertainment and self expression. When it paid off against Forest Griffin he was lauded as genius, and rightly so.
But we hadn’t seen the last of ‘The Spider’ yet. He returned only 13 months later to the delight of his adoring supporters to face another fan favourite in Nick Diaz. This was a comfortable decision win for Silva, but what followed the contest is possibly the biggest scathe on the Brazilian’s legacy.
Silva tested positive for two banned substances. Despite Silva’s pleads of innocence and claiming he was unaware of the substances being present, in what he called a sexual enhancement drug, he served a one-year ban and received a hefty fine.
Silva looked far from his best against Diaz, and with a twelve-month sentence now hanging over his head some were once again calling for time on ‘The Spider’s’ career. But back he came again 13 months later and faced current UFC middleweight champion, but mere contender at the time, Michael Bisping.
Silva showed moments of brilliance, as usual, in this contest but amazingly was on the end of a dubious unanimous decision to the Englishman, who was fighting on home soil. Not only did it seem clear Silva had won the majority of rounds, there was even a moment in the fight were it seemed he had Bisping knocked out cold.
The great Silva was now four fights without a victory. His reputation as the greatest of all time was fading quickly, especially with a new wave of MMA fans on the scene. But when his closest rival to the accolade, Jon Jones, was flagged for a doping violation of his own in the week building up to the landmark UFC 200, Silva flew in to save the day.
He faced Daniel Cormier in a light heavyweight bout on only two days notice. It was never going to be an easy night against a man that had been training for months to fight Jones, and Cormier dominated Anderson with his wrestling to earn a unanimous decision win. But it was another loss on the record and more ammunition for the doubters.
So, here we are with UFC 208 fast approaching and Silva currently putting together the final touches to his preparation before facing Derek Brunson. This is a fascinating match-up as the 33-year-old has a fierce reputation of starting fast, and as we all know Silva likes to ease his way into contests, building up his rhythm slowly but surely.
Brunson was on a very impressive four-fight round one knockout streak until getting a taste of his own medicine in his last outing against Robert Whittaker. He is a very dangerous man in those opening five minutes but as his loss to Whittaker shows, he leaves openings. And no better man to find those openings than Silva.
Victory against Brunson on Saturday would go a long way to proving to the new breed of MMA fan that there is something truly unique and special about ‘The Spider’, especially if he reels back the years and produces one of his matrix-like performances capped with a highlight reel finish.
Win, lose or draw Silva will still have another ten fights reportedly left on his UFC contract. In victory it would be a lot easier to match him up again. Gegard Mousasi has been calling Anderson out for a while now and currently sits just above him in the rankings.
A trilogy fight with Weidman is another possibility, given the bizarre circumstances in which both previous encounters ended. A rematch with Bisping also couldn’t be ruled out providing Anderson isn’t standing on the toes of teammate Jacare Souza in his quest for a title shot.
Ultimately though over the next couple of years it doesn’t matter who is facing him from the other side of the octagon. From now until he calls it a day, Silva’s only opponent is himself as he fights to restore his meritorious legacy as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
Neál Martin, Pundit Arena
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