The superlatives that can be written about Anderson Silva are almost endless, with the world middleweight champion having established himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time over the course of a fourteen-fight winning streak in the UFC. When I asked him what makes Silva special, his manager Ed Soares placed a great emphasis on Silva’s intellect. “He’s very intelligent inside the Octagon. He’s very calculating, looking for his opponent to make a mistake and capitalize on it. There’s very few opportunities to finish a fight and Anderson knows when it’s the right moment to do that”.
The legacy that Anderson Silva has built in the world’s premier mixed martial organization all began five years ago today, when he faced Rich Franklin for the world middleweight title at UFC 64. It’s easy to forget that many favored the champion over the unknown challenger, who after an erratic run in Pride FC was in only his second fight for the UFC. However much like his first opponent inside the Octagon Chris Leben, Rich Franklin had no chance against his punishingly accurate and relentless striking. The same was true when the two fought in a rematch the following year. Anderson Silva was just too good for a man hitherto unbeatable at 185Ibs.
From the day he won the title, Silva began to tear through the division, impressing fans whilst convincingly dismantling the likes of Travis Lutter and Nate Marquardt. With his Muay Thai background Silva dominated the middleweight division with explosive striking and stands unique amongst the UFC’s current roster of champions due to his relative lack of takedown defense. However, even against wrestlers such as Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen, Silva has been able to secure impressive victories off his back thanks to his ever-improving jiu-jitsu game.
However despite the length of his title reign and the list of vanquished opponent, fans refused to take to Silva. Part of the problem was his erratic performances, with fights against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites becoming grim stalemates as Silva refused to engage against overly defensive challengers. Worse was his absurd display against Damian Maia saw indulge in mocking antics that had UFC President threatening to cut him.
While in America most think of his epic comeback submission win over Chael Sonnen or his matrix-esque standup en route to destroying Forrest Griffin in a rare light heavyweight outing, in his home country the fight that put him on the map was his defense against Vitor Belfort. It was what many Brazilians called “The Fight of the Century”.
To fans outside Brazil Vitor Belfort is something of an also-ran; the personable, charismatic challenger that repeatedly choked when it came time to grab the brass ring. However in Brazil, Belfort’s fame grew to the proportion that he became a genuine crossover star. Ed Soares believes that this fame can be traced to two things, Belfort’s turbulent life and his natural charisma. “He’s a celebrity because he’s done so much plus he comes across well on interviews and knows how to market himself”.
Arguably it was Belfort’s personal life that made headlines. He married Joana Prado, a model who starred in the popular Brazilian television show H. In 2004 Brazil was gripped by the sad story of Belfort’s sister Priscilla being kidnapped. All this contributed to the strange state of affairs that although there were many Brazilian fighters who had been more successful than Belfort they were nowhere near as well known in Brazil as he was.
This all changed with UFC 126, with Belfort challenging Anderson Silva for the world middleweight title. In a moment of perfect synergy the UFC had secured a new television deal in Brazil that an audience in the tens of millions watched Anderson Silva brutally knockout Belfort with an inspired front kick to the face. For Silva, after a lifetime in Belfort’s shadow back home it made him a superstar in Brazil overnight. Ed Soares agrees; “Anderson Silva’s career was really catapulted to the next level after the Vitor Belfort fight, without a doubt”
Fresh off that fight, Anderson Silva was given the headline spot when the UFC made its long awaited return to Brazil with UFC Rio; an event that to Ed Soares “was incredible with MMA finally back where it all started”. At the centre of the success of the event was Anderson Silva, who after being mobbed by fans throughout the week went on to effortlessly defend his title against the last man to defeat him in Yushin Okami. In many ways it was a victory that brought everything full circle for a champion that after so many defenses was now being appreciated not just by his home supporters but by fans across the world. Today the blue chip endorsements are flooding in, with Silva being asked to endorse the likes of Nike, Burger King and Corinthians Football Club. At the heart of it all is the very title he won five years ago today, with Ed Soares making the point that it is “obvious” for Brazilians to follow the sport when “when the best fighter in the world is Brazilian”.
Tags: anderson silva, Brazil, Chael Sonnen, dan henderson, ed soares, forrest griffin, Mixed Martial Arts, nate marquardt, Patrick Cote, Rich Franklin, Thales Leites, UFC 117, UFC 134, UFC Brazil, Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami