In his famous introduction to the collected edition of The Dark Knight Returns, author Alan Moore touches on a key element of storytelling. “All of our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse Legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarek, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo”.
What it is true for mythical and historical heroes is true for those who rise to the top of the sporting world. Brian Clough is the most inspired manager in English soccer history but a career that saw him win not just league titles with two small-town clubs but take Nottingham Forest to successive European Cups ended with his tears rolling down a face ravaged by alcoholism as his team were relegated in his retirement match. The imperious Australian batsman Don Bradman is such an icon in cricket that legend has it that the first question Nelson Mandela asked when he left Robben Island was whether the long-retired icon was still alive. And yet the greatest cricketer ever was denied retiring with a batting average of more than a hundred runs a game when he was bowled without scoring in his last innings. Their final failures didn’t diminish their previous successes but defined them by ensuring the final curtain call was as memorable as the virtuoso performances that preceded it.
And UFC 162 deserves to be remembered alongside days such as those.
Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter mixed martial artist the sport has ever seen. Going into his seventeenth UFC fight he had dominated his opponents with a verve unmatched in combat sports history. Whereas today most fighters are as disciplined as any aspiring politician, Silva’s recklessness saw him do things that no man should even try let alone succeed. He refused to engage with Thales Leites, dropped his hands and bobbed his head against Forest Griffin, humiliated Damien Maia, with inured ribs risked defeat against Chael Sonnen due to an obsession with winning by the jujitsu the challenger had scorned and fought with his back to the cage against Stephen Bonnar. Whereas you know exactly what the likes of Georges St. Pierre are going to do when they step into the Octagon, he was MMA’s very own charismatic enigma.
Yet on July 6th this idiosyncratic odyssey came to a crashing halt. After a torrid few minutes where Chris Weidman had not just taken him down but been more threatening on the ground than any of his previous challengers Silva began to tune up the band. It was as if it were UFC 101 or UFC 112 all over again as Silva spent his time gesturing and hectoring towards his challenger; this time giving Weidman free shots, telling him where to hit and even pretending to be hurt if the All-American managed to connect with a glancing blow. That last piece of performance art would be his undoing, with Weidman catching Silva with another big punch as he was mock reacting to a far less impactful blow. By the time Silva realized he was in trouble it was too late with Weidman raining down shots from top position.
Most are already saying that Silva was an idiot for play acting. I disagree. There has always been logic to Silva’s madness. He may have taken it too far but his clowning around goaded Weidman into abandoning the wrestling-orientated gameplan that brought him such success in the opening few minutes. The first few minutes looked like it was going to be a long night for the champion whereas once the fight was back on the feet he looked in complete control right up until the knockout.
They’ll be others, not least of them UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who say that this was a sad end for such an illustrious winning streak. Again I disagree. Silva did not turn up old and broken down. Nor did he lose in a way that revealed a systematic weakness in his game that cast doubt on the credibility of his UFC tenure. This was not like a faded, complacent Fedor Emelianenko losing to somebody not in his league due to his skills having dulled due to lack of competition. Silva was on the top of his game but finally met somebody who could cut though the Gordian Knot.
Like Clough and Bradman this will be an ending that defines Silva’s legend. As with Clough we saw Silva undone by the very impetuousness that had allowed him to achieve the impossible and as with Bradman’s duck the end of Silva’s streak underlines how incredible it was that he beat the percentages for so long. Both aspects are worth celebrating now that have lost them. As we come to to terms with the end of Anderson Silva’s legend, we should remember how magical it’s been to watch it develop over the past six and a half years.