In the lead-up to UFC 134, neither UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva nor his challenger Yushin Okami spoke much about the controversial disqualification Silva was handed the last time he faced Okami. The upkick Silva landed in their first bout in 2006 resulted in the last defeat Silva tasted.
In fact, the only one who seems to have been talking about that fight is Chael Sonnen, the professional troll who came close to defeating Silva at UFC 117 a year ago, only to lose in the fifth round. Sonnen, who’ll be in Okami’s corner Saturday night, has done his best to needle Silva the best he could from the very sidelines to which his illegal activity has relegated him.
But aside from one loose remark, Silva has risen above the nonsense emanating from Sonnen. Indeed, he is on the cusp of a wave at the moment, with the longest-reigning world champion in the sport’s history finally securing the recognition that has long been overdue. After long being accused of being unmarketable, his status as one of the top draws in the sport has finally been recognized.
His improved drawing power has coincided with the winning over of hardcore fans long skeptical of UFC president Dana White’s claim that he is the greatest fighter of all time. A run of memorable fights has put to the side the lackluster performances against Patrick Cote at UFC 90 in October 2008 and Thales Leites at UFC 97 in April 2009, with Silva wowing fans with his Matrix-esque bobbing and weaving against Forrest Griffin and his last-gasp heroics and fully integrated ground game against Sonnen.
But it’s perhaps his performance against Demian Maia, a unanimous decision win at UFC 112 in April 2010, which says the most about him. In many ways it was a disgraceful performance, but the effortless way he was able to toy with Maia and the way he was able to connect with an array of almost perverse strikes was inspired. It showed the character trait in Silva that truly makes him great — his unpredictability.
With Silva, we are all forced to ask questions. Will he come ready to engage or is he content to outpoint his opponent? Will he go for the knockout or try to win the fight off his back? Will he show his opponent respect or will he resort to mind games?
Such unpredictability speaks to a skill level that gives him many more options than the average fighter, but it also speaks to his demented genius. Unlike other dominant fighters in the sport’s history, Silva is a natural cavalier. While the likes of Randy Couture and Matt Hughes were dependable and consistent fighters who used their physical and mental strength to dominate the opposition, Silva’s fighting style is far more spontaneous, as his tactics are dictated by what he’s feeling in the moment. Sometimes it doesn’t click, but when it does the results are truly breathtaking.
A classic example of that was his win against Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 this past February, where after a cagey opening few minutes he, out of nowhere, delivered a pitch-perfect front kick to the chin that knocked his fellow Brazilian to the canvas. Silva’s physicality and imagination combined to produce the perfect play, with his leg whipping in from an angle that fooled Belfort into anticipating a leg kick.
This devastating win over Belfort propelled Silva to a new level of superstardom in his native Brazil. Blue-chip endorsements and an increased media profile have followed, and in a perfect moment of timing, the UFC is able to capitalize this weekend when UFC 134 becomes its first-ever show in MMA’s spiritual homeland. With a new UFC television deal in place with FOX, Silva’s on the brink on becoming the type of crossover star MMA has never truly produced in Brazil.
On Saturday night in Rio De Janeiro, the greatest fighter of all time has his homecoming party. It’s taken too long for his countrymen to awake to the seminal gifts at his disposal, but in many ways MMA fans have been even slower to appreciate the historic talent that is Anderson Silva.
Tags: anderson silva, Chael Sonnen, Demian Maia, forrest griffin, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 134, Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami