Anderson “The Spider” Silva will go into his title match tomorrow at UFC 126 against Vitor Belfort on a 13-fight win streak. He’ll put that streak on the line against “The Phenom,” but more importantly will put his UFC middleweight title on the line for the seventh time. And even more important than that, Silva will once again put his legacy on the line in Las Vegas.
Much like Strikeforce heavyweight and pound-for-pound great Fedor Emelianenko, Silva has transcended everyone else in his division. He’s even proved dominance in a second weight class by successfully experimenting at light heavyweight. At times he seems vulnerable but has always proved victorious. Never was this more apparent than during Silva’s last bout against Chael Sonnen where the champion was taken down repeatedly and beaten on for four and a half straight rounds. Never in the UFC have we seen Silva as close to defeat as he was against Sonnen.
But much like the time when we all thought that Emelianenko might be dead (much less beaten) after a Kevin Randleman German suplex right on the back of his head during a bout in PRIDE, Silva kept his composure and and proved that the best fighters in the world always find a way to win. With 1:50 left in the fifth round of the championship bout, Silva made his opponent pay for one final mistake. He slipped on a triangle choke to force Sonnen to tap as Sonnen seemingly thought the bout was all but over. Silva, to many, was once again the best fighter in the world.
And like Emelianenko, a few critics and fans speculate before every Anderson Silva bout whether or not this is going to be “the one.” The one where Silva’s opponent somehow finds a way to win. Whether its by knockout or decision, submission or TKO, at some point it has to happen. It always does. Even to the best in the world.
“The one” for Fedor came last summer. Heading into a statistically favorable bout for Emelianenko, most wouldn’t suggest that this would be the fight where “The Last Emperor” finally gets legitimately beaten. His opponent, Fabricio Werdum, was a solid heavyweight. With a mix of brilliant Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and excellent submission credentials, Werdum was a guy that could beat Fedor, but no one would legitimately put their own hard-earned money on it happening.
Of course there are always those few who enjoy speculating. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker stated before that bout that if Werdum won, he would not be shocked. Whether that was meant to simply convince fans that Werdum had a legitimate chance, who knows. Coker obviously had a vested interest in people believing that Werdum had a chance against Fedor. But still, others felt that Werdum’s jiu-jitsu skills were too good if the fight went to the ground.
But really? Did anyone really believe that this would be it? Emelianenko is the same guy to beat Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira twice. In Pride. How could he lose to Werdum? A guy that was cut by the UFC after being knocked out viciously by young up-and-comer Junior dos Santos. Fedor would no doubt land a hammer-like hook to put Werdum down before the fight ever even got close to being a ground battle. Right?
We all know now how that ended up.
It was a moment in mixed martial arts that seemed to occur in slow motion. Fedor knocked Werdum down and then followed him to the ground as he as done so many times before. As Fedor entered his opponent’s guard, Werdum quickly slipped on a triangle choke. It looked as if Fedor would wiggle out, though, and continue an onslaught of ground and pound like he is well known for.
But for some reason, Fedor didn’t get out. The triangle was too tight. Fedor was unable to get out of the stranglehold. Instead, with one tap of Fedor’s hand, it was all over.
For the first time in a ten year career, Fedor was beaten. In 69 seconds of the first round.
No need to speculate anymore. That was “the one.”
The legacy of Fedor should never be questioned. Regardless of what happens in the future, and despite the fact that many have written him off since the loss to Werdum, Fedor will go down as possibly the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time.
The legacy of Silva is another story. Despite the dominance shown by Silva in many of his bouts, at times its seemed like Silva is uninterested in being in the cage. Almost as if he didn’t recognize the opponent’s name on the fight contract and, therefore, felt that training for the fight was beneath him. I mean, Damian Maia? A solid fighter but did he really belong in a title fight with Silva?
And of course there was the Thales Leites fight. Silva looked like he was a college freshman, back home on Christmas vacation beating up the toughest high school kid around just to prove that he still runs this town. Leites didn’t even look to be on the same planet as Silva that night. The Cote fight began the nonsense of course. That’s where it all began. Who booked these fights? Silva must have wondered. Cant you find me a REAL opponent?
So while we know the legacy of Fedor, what is the legacy of Silva? Sure he has shown dominate performances and beaten Rick Franklin, Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt. He made Forrest Griffin look like he had never fought a fight in his life, much less a professional one. But what about the Maia, Leites, and Cote bouts?
How will fans look upon those disasters that were promoted as fights? How will those bouts effect Silva’s legacy?
All we know is that on Saturday night, Silva once again enters the Octagon as one of the best in the world. His opponent, Belfort, has lightning quick hands. He knocked Franklin out so fast that you had to watch a replay to actually see where Belfort’s punch landed. But he’s facing “The Spider”. The guy who came back after being outwrestled and beaten on for four and a half rounds against Chael Sonnen, and tapped him out. The man who hasn’t legitimately lost since 2004. On a 13-fight streak and the UFC middleweight champion of the world.
If he destroys Belfort like he has so many others, Silva will continue to stake his claim as the greatest ever.
If he loses, some will likely forget about his remarkable career up to this point and write him off just like they did Fedor.
But no way Silva will lose this fight. Right?
Or could this be “the one?”