It shouldn’t end like this. Not for Anderson Silva. Not for the man many consider to be the greatest MMA fighter of all-time. Not for the fighter who has treated fight fans across the globe with one scintillating highlight reel knockout after another. Not by throwing a leg kick and watching your leg snap like a twig against your opponents knee. Not by being carried out on a stretcher while your opponent raises the middleweight title belt that you held for nearly seven years. Not laying an operating table as social media explodes with questions regarding your future in what played out more like a funeral service than a celebration.
Not like this.
December 28, 2013 was set to be a special night as UFC 168 would cap off an impressive year for the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization. The MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas was buzzing with a surprisingly strong Brazilian contingency that came to see Anderson Silva avenge his shocking knockout loss to Chris Weidman. From the second fight of the night featuring Brazilian William Macario on, the building shook from the endless stream of cheers and boos usually reserved for the main event. Devastating knockouts and epic battles had emotions running high for Weidman vs. Silva. The arena swelled from soccer stadium chants when Anderson Silva made his way to the Octagon.
Who knew that it would quite possibly be the last time we would ever see him make that walk to the eight-sided cage again?
The question was whether Weidman had Silva’s number or if a focused Anderson Silva would prove that the first fight was nothing more than a fluke. Neither were really answered on this night; although several hints surfaced before Silva’s night was cut short from a freak accident that may have ended the career of “The Spider.”
This fight was supposed to represent closure for both Silva and Weidman yet we are left with more questions than answers. However, the notion that Weidman was a fluke champion who only secured a shocking knockout because his opponent did not take him seriously was launched out the window from the opening bell. The undefeated Hofstra graduate picked up where he left off as he took the fight to a clearly more attentive Silva.
Weidman sent Silva careening to the canvas with a right hand from the clinch midway through the first round that saw the Brazilian’s eyes roll back into his head. It looked as if Weidman would prove once and for all that he was the better man. But Silva would survive the initial stanza. Weidman probably figured that he would get him in the next round anyway.
Silva attempted to work the angles in the second round as he glided from side to side an whipped leg kicks into Weidman’s thigh with alarming impact. He seemed to be clicking into a groove when it happened. And in a flash, with Silva crumbling to the mat shouting in agony, it was all over. The arena that had been shaking for hours from the crowd noise fell silent, except for the clearly audible crescendo of gasps from those who realized what had just happened.
In a sport where it is normal to suffer from cuts, bruises and the occasional broken bone, bearing witness to a man’s leg snapping like a pencil against another man’s leg is something nobody expected. Furthermore, to see it happen in a fight of this magnitude is downright tragic.
But almost as tragic as Silva’s career possibly coming to an end is how Weidman was robbed, not once, but twice of the validation he deserves. This wasn’t supposed to be how it was written. Something definitive was to be confirmed. Whether it be Silva proving to be the better man or Weidman cementing his dominance, something needed to be etched in stone.
Now, Weidman’s victories will unfairly have an asterisk attached to both moments that should be the greatest memories of his fighting career. He retained his title utilizing a defensive tactic called “The Devastator” by trainer Ray Longo. It’s a move where a fighter “checks” his opponent’s leg kick by lifting his leg so that the knee connects with the shin and absorbs the blow. It wasn’t a fluke, but a casual MMA fan won’t understand the strategy. Nevertheless, Weidman looked dejected as he conducted his post fight interview. It was apparent that the reality had begun to sink in that the respect he deserves may still elude him.
“Who knows?” Weidman said when that very question. “I’m so new in this sport. I’m 11-0 now and people can’t fathom the fact I came in and beat Anderson Silva. I can understand where people are coming from but slowly and surely people will believe in me.”
More importantly, however, is trying to fathom whether this is what the end of Anderson Silva’s career will look like. An injury such as this has happened before in the UFC (to Corey Hill in 2008, and he would fight again) but Silva is 38 and will likely take longer than the projected 3-6 months to mend. Not only that, but how this will play into his psyche is an entirely different conversation altogether. Is there any way possible that he can be remotely the same fighter he once was?
In other sports, such as football and basketball, a devastating leg injury carries a heavier toll mentally than it does physically. Can a fighter who has spent his entire fighting career utilizing his supreme athletic ability alter his strategy to protect his damaged limbs? Furthermore, Silva is at an age where his reflexes will surely be on the downhill slide. What will he look like if he returns to the cage at 40?
It is a lot to ponder and answers will not come in the immediate future. During the post fight press conference, UFC President Dana White put it simply: “It’s a shitty way to go out, but it’s part of the game.”