LAS VEGAS – For about 90 seconds, Dana White's worst fears were being realized. The outspoken Ultimate Fighting Championship president had noted before the middleweight championship bout between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort that he saw a scenario in which it could be little more than a staring match.
And then …
Twenty seconds into the fight, no punches.
Forty-five seconds in, still nothing, and the sellout crowd of 10,983 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was getting restless.
A minute and Belfort had landed one punch to Silva's none.
And then, suddenly, like a blur, it was over.
"For a while there, I was like, 'Oh, [expletive],' " White said. "And then, [the kick landed] and I was like, 'Oh, [expletive!], ' "
Silva blasted Belfort with a completely out-of-left field straight kick that landed on the butt of the challenger's chin, knocking him down and out. Silva, reluctantly it seemed, landed a couple of shots on the ground until referee Mario Yamasaki stopped it at 3:25, giving Silva his eighth consecutive title-fight victory.
More importantly, it took him one step closer to a champion vs. champion showdown against welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre in a fight that would pit the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
St. Pierre needs to defeat Jake Shields at UFC 129 in Toronto on April 30 in order for the super fight to occur. Unlike the bizarre boxing negotiations that have prevented a one versus two fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., there are no obstacles to making Silva-St. Pierre other than St. Pierre winning his next bout.
"The biggest problem with the (potential Silva-St. Pierre) fight is where to put it," said White, who said Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, would be chief among the possibilities.
Silva did his part Saturday with a jaw-dropping finish, reeling off his 14th consecutive win overall and his 13th consecutive UFC win. He'd drilled the kick over and over with, of all persons, actor Steven Seagal.
"This was a kick I trained a lot, not only myself, but all my training partners," Silva said. "One of the benefits of training with everyone I train with is that not only are we looking at the films of the opponents we're going to face, but we're looking at the films of the opponents we may potentially face.
"Vitor is a guy who has very quick hands and he has great boxing skills. I practiced this kick a lot and it just happened to work out."
Light heavyweight Jon Jones, who submitted Ryan Bader earlier on the card to earn a title shot in March against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, watches Internet videos to come up with many of his flashy moves.
But no one, not even Jones, had seen the likes of Silva's straight kick in a major championship bout.
"I hadn't seen anything close to that before," Jones said.
White said, "The only place I've seen anything like that was in a video game."
The kick not only conclusively ended the fight, it also should conclusively end the argument about the identity of the world's best pound-for-pound fighter. St. Pierre, who hasn't lost a round while reeling off eight consecutive wins, holds the top spot in the Yahoo! Sports poll.
But when Silva comes to fight, there is no one better at the present. The talent pool is so deep in the UFC that few fighters win as many as five in a row. But Silva has run off 13 and hasn't been beaten in nearly five years in the world's largest mixed martial arts promotion.
He handled the pressure of Saturday's all-Brazilian showdown with Belfort as if it were a sparring session with a rookie. The two had exchanged harsh words throughout the buildup to the fight, as Silva was angry that Belfort left his fight team to try to make a run at his belt.
Interest in Brazil was high and hordes of Brazilian media descended upon Las Vegas. Silva, though, was hardly affected.
"It started out being a cautious fight, with the guys studying each other," Rua said. "This fight was very important in Brazil. It generated a lot of buzz and opened a lot of doors in Brazil. Certainly, MMA in Brazil will not be the same any more after this fight. They studied each other a bit because they're two very good fighters and they're very good in Muay Thai.
"In the end, Anderson was very happy. It was a perfect strike that he landed."
Silva has pulled off a pair of the UFC's most dramatic finishes in his last two outings. At UFC 117 in August, he took a beating for more than four rounds from Chael Sonnen before catching Sonnen in a triangle choke with less than two minutes left.
On Saturday, it was no less dramatic and will likely wind up on the next DVD the UFC produces of its greatest knockouts.
"You can count on that," White said.
There isn't much more to do – Yushin Okami still hasn't gotten a long-ago promised title shot, but few would give him a chance against the dynamic Silva – and so White is prepared to make the mega-bout he once resisted.
If St. Pierre manages to get past Shields, and that's hardly a given, Silva may face his strongest challenge. St. Pierre is a wrestler and, as Sonnen proved, high-level wrestlers can get Silva on his back and do damage.
"Georges is a great wrestler and he can take anybody down," White said. "I mean, he dominates wrestlers who wrestled in college or wherever. Stylistically, it's an interesting fight. And I love the fact that if both guys clean out the divisions, you're able to do a super fight like this."
If Silva managed to win that fight, it would be hard to imagine any active middleweight who would be a threat to him. Silva reiterated Saturday that he has no plans to campaign as a light heavyweight.
He'd probably be dominant there, as well, but prefers the familiarity of the 185-pound class.
It was one of the most dominant performances in a career filled with them.
"I'm not planning on moving up in weight, or moving down in weight, and I want to maintain my position in the middleweight division and prepare myself for the next combat," Silva said. "It's going to be one of those types of fights. It's going to be a fun fight. I'm going to go over here, fly over here, he's going to fly over there. There will be a lot of punches and kicks thrown. It's going to be another fun fight."
It will be combat at its technical best, but it's hard to envision anyone, even a brilliant athlete like St. Pierre, beating this guy.
He has his stretches where he makes you scratch your head – Who could forget his zany antics against Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi? – but there isn't a man alive now who is better.
- Anderson Silva
- Vitor Belfort