LAS VEGAS — He entered the UFC in 2006 as one of just many anonymous free agent signings, a talented but largely underappreciated fighter who hadn’t quite put it all together yet. He’ll leave it on Saturday as a worldwide icon, one of the faces of the rapid rise in popularity of mixed martial arts and one of the most feared fighters who ever stepped foot in the cage.
He’ll have one fight left on his UFC contract after Saturday, but he’s signaling strongly that he’s probably done in the UFC, though not in combat sports. But he’s vague enough to leave some wiggle room and create some intrigue.
Asked directly, he flashes that trademark toothy grin and then an answer that is typical Silva and really isn’t an answer.
“Well, maybe this is my last fight in UFC,” he said. “Probably. But let’s go see, you know? … After Saturday, I can come talk to you and say, ‘This is my last fight, or not. I have more.’ But probably inside the UFC, this is my last fight.”
For a six-year span, from when he debuted with a devastating knockout of Chris Leben on June 28, 2006, to UFC 153 on Oct. 13, 2012, when he stopped Stephan Bonnar in the first round with a knee and then strikes, he was the UFC’s Mike Tyson.
He brought the violence virtually every time, with memorable finishes against the likes of Leben, Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson and others.
He won 16 in a row in that period and, along with Georges St-Pierre, helped legitimize the sport and the UFC. He played an integral role in giving the UFC the credibility to land its Fox deal and, subsequently, its current ESPN deal.
The UFC is now as mainstream as the soda counter on Main Street at the 5-and-Dime, and Silva played a huge role in that.
Adesanya a major part of Silva’s legacy
It was Silva’s win at UFC 90 over Patrick Cote that got another skinny kickboxer interested in MMA. Israel Adesanya, who is now the UFC middleweight champion, said Silva heavily influenced his decision to pursue MMA.
“One-hundred percent he did [get me into MMA],” Adesanya told Yahoo Sports. “I had done taekwondo as a kid and I was already involved in martial arts throughout my life, but I started dancing as a teenager and I got heavily into that. UFC 90 was the first time I had seen Anderson fight live. Before that, I had seen him on DVDs, but I had never watched him live.
“When I saw him fight live at UFC 90 against Patrick Cote, I thought, ‘Oh s---, this guy is something.’ To me, there had been this perception that you had to be a super muscly jacked-up Rambo-looking dude to be a fighter, and then Anderson comes along and here he was, this skinny, runt-looking dude and he was whipping everyone’s ass. I was like, ‘I’m skinny. I’m a runt. I can probably whip people’s ass, too.”
Silva had his own style, but he was virtually unbeatable at his peak. At UFC 101, he knocked out Forrest Griffin with a jab while moving backward. At UFC 126, he scored one of the most spectacular knockouts of his career, catching Brazilian rival Vitor Belfort in the face with a front kick that finished the fight on the spot.
Adesanya’s favorite, though, was one in which Silva was touched, which he rarely was at the time.
At UFC 117, Chael Sonnen took Silva down repeatedly and was pummeling him on the ground. Round after round, the same story played out, through the fifth round.
At the halfway point of the round, Silva managed to slide his body around and caught Sonnen in a triangle choke, forcing the submission and scoring the dramatic come-from-behind win.
“There was this eerie feeling around that night and when he dropped the first round, it was something I hadn’t seen before,” Adesanya said. “And Chael Sonnen was handling him and I’m like, ‘C’mon, Anderson!’ But he was that kind of a champion and he found a way.”
Silva’s complicated relationship with Dana White
At the time, UFC president Dana White began hailing Silva as the best fighter of all time, surpassing heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, whom most people regarded as the best ever prior to Silva.
White and Silva had an interesting relationship. It wasn’t always peaches and cream, and White was angrily denouncing Silva at UFC 110 following Silva’s lackluster win over Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi.
Silva beamed as he recalled the incident, but he never let it affect the way he fought, despite how angry White was.
“Let me tell you something: A lot of fighters are scared about Dana,” Silva said. “But Dana is a good guy. Sometimes, though, he becomes angry. There are two things. Inside the cage, Dana doesn’t have control. Inside the cage, whose place is it? It’s the fighters’ — the fighters’ business is inside the cage. It’s my business; it’s not Dana’s business.
“The fight with Demian is why I don’t like to talk too much. When you talk too much, everything changes when you go inside. That was the problem in that fight. Dana came and talked to me and I said, ‘Sorry, but I won the fight. I can’t do everything you like me to do because inside the cage, that’s my world. Your world is outside. You make the fights.’ … Inside the cage is not Dana’s world. It’s my world. In my world, I know everything.”
On Saturday, he’ll face Hall in an exceedingly difficult match for a 45-year-old guy to take. If this is it, he’s not going out with a softy.
And that attitude is what endeared him to both fans and fighters alike. At UFC 200, when Jon Jones failed an anti-doping test and was pulled from his fight with Daniel Cormier three days out, Silva stepped in and fought Cormier, a two-time Olympic wrestler.
“It takes balls, cojones, to do that,” Adesanya said. “Jon Jones [expletive] up again and was pulled from the fight and jeopardized this huge show. Anderson stepped up and saved the day against a guy like Daniel Cormier that not a lot of people were looking to fight. … That’s who he is. He’s a guy who takes risks, calculated risks, and throws himself into the line of fire. Really impressive to see.”
As has been most everything Silva has done since joining the UFC back in 2006. It’s going to hurt to see him go, but he’s left more memories than the next three fighters combined.
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