Thirteen months ago, it appeared that it was time to read the eulogy for Anderson Silva’s mixed martial arts career after he suffered a grotesque leg break during his rematch against Chris Weidman. But a miraculous comeback saw “The Spider” back in the UFC Octagon against Nick Diaz at UFC 183 in Las Vegas as the world watched to see if the Brazilian would make a return to form as the man who was once recognized as the greatest pound for pound mixed martial artist of all time.
But the recovery from a broken leg wasn’t the only thing to be concerned with when it came to Silva’s return. His last two fights against Chris Weidman saw the mythical legend of “The Spider” regress into a mere mortal as Weidman scored a shocking knockout in their first affair – ending Silva’s reign as the #1 pound for pound fighter in the world as well as 16 fight winning streak – and was well on his way to doing the same in the second fight before the improbable leg break.
It may have been fitting that Roy Jones Jr. – Silva’s idol – was sitting cageside at the fight. Despite their different disciplines, Silva and Jones Jr. share a number of traits. In their respective primes, both relied heavily on instincts and cat-like reflexes to perform with an almost supernatural flair. They broke every rule in the book when it came to fighting a disciplined match and often toyed with their opponents by leaving their hands down and beckoning their advances. Their dominance in their respective crafts seemed to last forever until one day they woke up and became old. Not devastatingly ancient, but just old enough where they lost that nanosecond of reflexes that helped them avoid punishment and deliver counters that came seemingly out of nowhere and put their opponents out.
For Jones, his plunge would come at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson by savage knockout in 2004 and he would never, ever recover the magic he once had. Silva fell in a similar manner to Weidman but his leg break vetoed what many thought might have been the inevitable second knockout at the hands of the American.
So the question remained which Anderson Silva would we see in the eight sided structure known as the Octagon. Fortunately, Silva wasn’t set up to face Weidman and was eased back into his mixed martial arts career with the less threatening (but certainly not to be taken lightly) Nick Diaz.
The litmus test would be against a fighter who competed normally at a lower weight class (Diaz was a regular at 170 pounds but this fight was made at the middleweight limit of 185 pound) and hadn’t won since 2011. The safer fighting environment didn’t guarantee victory for Silva, but it certainly made the ride back to form a little bit easier.
The litmus test provided only a small sample size but it was evident that what we saw from Silva was not the tour de force that we had become accustomed to. In the context of his leg break and back to back losses it was still a return to form for Silva as he won a unanimous decision against Diaz in front of 13,114 raucous and mostly pro-Silva fans who chanted and sang as if the World Cup was taking place in the confines of the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Silva fought a mostly disciplined fight and left the antics to Diaz, who mocked and jawed at his opponent incessantly during the opening round. At one point, Diaz dropped to the canvas and played dead in an effort to get into the Brazilian’s head. However, the 39-year-old didn’t allow his opponent’s frolics to shake his game plan as Silva scored with accurate punches and kicks that froze the advancement of the game Diaz. As the fight wore on, it was evident that Diaz was out of his league against Silva and could do little more than be resilient in the face of the storm of assault that was guaranteed to come his way. By the end of the fight, a busted up Diaz was resigned to defeat as the scorecards were read and Silva collapsed to the canvas in a tearful celebration.
No, it wasn’t the Anderson Silva of old as he appeared to be a little bit slower, less accurate and a bit more methodical. But that is still good enough to beat 90 percent of his prospective opponents handily. It’s just not the 100 percent success rate that he once had. Which makes you wonder with such an emotional outburst at the end of the fight whether this was the last we would see of Anderson Silva. Perhaps this fight was more about ending his career with his hand raised in victory rather than on his back clutching a broken leg.
His comments during the post fight press conference only fueled speculation that the end might be near for the man who has often been pegged as the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time.
“I need to talk to my family. I love my job. This is me. I love to fight, but I need to talk to my family because this is more important in my life now,” Silva said after mentioning that his son begged him to retire over the phone shortly after his victory.
“I love fighting, but I need to talk to my family,” he continued. “My son talked to me, serious. When I talked to my son, my son cried. ‘Dad, stop please. Back home, please. Stop. You don’t need more fights.’”
Considering what Silva has accomplished during his 18-year mixed martial arts career, it is very difficult to see what he has left to prove. At this point, a third fight with Chris Weidman doesn’t seem probable or necessary. Only one name makes sense and that is super fight with the semi-retired Georges St-Pierre. It is something fight fans have drooled over for years and makes the most sense for both Silva and St-Pierre as they have accomplished so much during their respective tenures that turning to each other is the only plausible thing to do. Otherwise, given Silva’s statements and reluctance to affirm that he will continue fighting, this may have been the last time we will ever see the great Anderson “The Spider” Silva in the UFC.