It started with a kick to the head. Then a wicked three-punch combo and soon another powerful kick, then a right cross, then a crushing upper cut and then finally an absolutely vicious knee to the face.
Chris Leben had entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship's caged octagon in June 2006 boasting a promising future, a 15-1 record and a granite chin. Forty-nine seconds later he was knocked out by Anderson Silva.The Brazilian, making his UFC debut, had unleashed an explosion of violence so impressive it managed to shock a sport built on explosions of violence.
"I must have said Holy (expletive) 15 times in 49 seconds," said Dana White, the UFC president.
The crowd at the Hard Rock Casino went nuts. Fellow fighters looking on stood with mouths agape. Announcer Joe Rogan, sounding a little like he couldn't believe what he had just seen, declared: "this is a different kind of striker."
Indeed, Silva was. Fight fans have flocked to the UFC in recent years for the non-stop action, colorful personalities and wild brawls, but this seemed like something new. Silva wasn't just some street fighter; he was a gifted athlete … who could also street fight.
He hit harder than a Vegas hangover but was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu master with fighting flair and a spring in his step. He was a devastating combination of pure grace and unapologetic, unadulterated fury. He didn't hesitate to go in for the kill, but did it in a way, as brutal as the result was, that belied the old "human cock fighting" label John McCain once placed on this sport before it cleaned up its act.
This was, if you will, kind of beautiful.
The UFC website was besieged by fans demanding Silva, despite being less than a minute into his UFC career, immediately be granted a title shot. White, no dummy, set it up – Silva vs. Rich Franklin, the 19-1 middleweight (185 pound) champion.
It took Silva all of 2:49 to beat the hell out of Franklin in equally brutal fashion, causing the crowd to gasp, scream and roar, all at the same time. The final flurry included a knee to the face breaking Franklin's nose, an ensuing kick and then another knee to end it.
And with that, it seemed, something had emerged in the fight game that many thought might be lost and gone forever – another Mike Tyson.
Clad mostly in black trunks and black shoes, Tyson exploded into the late 1980s as a boxer who rarely boxed, preferring to stalk an opponent until he all but decapitated him.
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It wasn't just that he won that thrilled fans it was how he won. He became a 37-0 heavyweight champion on the strength of 33 knockouts that were short on subtlety.
They call boxing the "sweet science," but this was pure primal power. Mike Tyson fights weren't just fights they were happenings not to be missed; the opening bell serving as the most exciting moment in sports. You couldn't dare tune in late (he dropped 17 guys in the first round) or ever turn away (one punch could end it).
Every fight was electric, not just in the arena, but on television. It didn't matter who Tyson was fighting, you tuned in for the carnage, to witness that moment he was seemingly uncaged and sent to the ring.
"When Mike walked out from the dressing room, you know someone was going to get their ass kicked," said White before pausing. "God, I loved Mike Tyson."
Not since Ali was the sport bigger, fans feasting on raw blood lust. There was simply nothing like Tyson then. There certainly has been nothing like him since.
But soon Tyson unraveled and the most exciting moment in American sports became Barry Bonds in a batter's box or Michael Jordan in the open court or any other take your pick moment.
With the sagging fortunes of boxing it didn't even seem possible that a "fighter" could regain such a title.
White, once a boxing trainer and gym owner, had even abandoned the sport to help turn the UFC into a sensation. He had felt that same energy on a number of cards, fans jacked to see Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture.
But as big as those guys had gotten, as intense and memorable as their battles were, there still hadn't been that tour de force, that quick strike, overwhelming, indomitable presence who upon leaving his dressing room you knew, absolutely knew, was about to deliver a beating. The how would surprise, even if the what was expected.
And now here was this 6-foot-2 Brazilian nicknamed Spider, attacking like a pit bull. Here was, A different kind of striker.
"It is the magic hour," Silva said of his aggressive style through a translator. "I train really hard and it all comes out, all the hard work really comes out. I just go."
So now here was a guy who White had high hopes for when he signed him from a rival organization, just overwhelming the competition, never letting any of his five UFC fights last past the middle of the second round.
"This guy has come into the UFC and literally walked through the division," White said. "He walked into the octagon like he owned it."
Just like Tyson, it wasn't that he won, but how he won. Different sport, same principle.
Silva says he was a big Tyson fan growing up but he laughs at the comparison. "Why not Roy Jones, Jr.?" he said Thursday. "Why not Michael Jordan?"
Considering the sad state of Tyson's life, who can blame him? The thing is, other than the Tyson-esque destruction Silva produces when the fight is on, he has nothing in common with Iron Mike.
His long, lanky frame bears little resemblance to Tyson's intimidating stocky block of power. He smiles a lot, dances often and carries himself with the care-free attitude. He loves Spider-Man, once worked at Burger King and according to the London Daily Star, after granting Franklin a title rematch and then painfully annihilating him again, apologized for administering the whipping – "I am so sorry I had to do that to you again."
A former Brooklyn purse snatcher he's not.
"Mike was a guy you'd be scared to meet," White said. "Anderson Silva is the sweetest guy in the world.
"At least," White continued, "until he steps into the octagon to finish you."
Silva will meet PRIDE middleweight champion Dan Henderson Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, in a title unification match.
Online, the secondary market has a single seat going for up to $1,000. Hotel rooms anywhere near downtown Columbus were gone weeks ago. Millions more are expected to watch around the world via pay per view and the internet. (Disclosure, Yahoo! Sports is an online partner with UFC).
The UFC in particular and mixed martial arts in general, is big business. Its pay per view buys surpassed boxing a couple years back and show no signs of slowing. Silva is its best fighter, ranked the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world regardless by almost everyone, including Yahoo! Sports.
But as fast as the sport is growing, Silva is anything but a household name. Mainstream media still mostly ignore the sport and as old and stagnant as boxing may be, in terms of publicity, its ceiling remains far higher than the UFC. If a boxer was doing what Silva was doing, everyone would know him.
Of course, no one would have an easy time marketing a 32-year-old from Curitiba, Brazil, who speaks no English. Great orator is not a term ever used to describe Tyson ("I'll fade into Bolivian"), but you could still put him on Jay Leno's couch. Silva has no such option.
Which might make this phenomenon even better.
He's captured the imagination of fans purely on his performance. He is the antithesis of the modern sports star, far too many of whom are little more than marketing sensations and Nike commercials, more sizzle than steak.
Silva is doing this the old-fashioned way, one ass kicking at a time.
"Fight fans don't care what he has to say, they care how he fights," said White. This is a nice sentiment but he knows it'll be a struggle to turn this guy into the kind of crossover star Americans Liddell, Couture and Tito Ortiz became.
Still, the proof is in the poundings.
"I will fight anybody, anytime, any place for any reason," Silva said.
Henderson, a hard-hitting former Olympic wrestler considered the second best middle weight in the world, is the next "anybody." This will be Silva's sternest UFC test and if he can dominate Henderson, there is no logical opponent on the horizon.
"If this guy walks through Dan Henderson like he's walked through everyone else in the UFC, I don't know if anyone will ever beat Anderson Silva," White said. Henderson's strategy is simple; don't get caught up in the electricity of the Tyson moment, then avoid getting knocked out long enough to get Silva to the ground and hope he can wear him down wrestling.
The big question with Silva is whether he can stand a long fight; a question, of course, that exists solely because he crushes everyone so quickly.
"He's definitely beatable," Henderson said, undaunted. "I'm going out there to beat him up."
A lot of guys used to say that about Tyson, too.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports national columnist.
- Anderson Silva
- Dana White
- Mike Tyson