In the 15-year history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, no one has won nine consecutive fights. Not Chuck Liddell; not Randy Couture; not Tito Ortiz. Not even anyone back in the days when the depth of competition was limited.
Anderson Silva is poised to accomplish it Saturday against Thales Leites at UFC 97.
This wasn't like the start of a career where he got to plow through hand-picked, overmatched guys while he gained seasoning. Silva has fought the best anyone could find to fight him.
Silva's eight wins – which matches the mark set by Royce Gracie and equaled by Jon Fitch – include five middleweight title fights (a victory over Rich Franklin and four defenses). A 2007 contest with Travis Lutter should've been a title defense but Lutter missed weight. Silva whipped him in the second round anyway.
Other than that, there was a 49-second destruction of Chris Leben in his UFC debut and a 1:01 crushing of James Irvin when Silva moved up 20 pounds to light heavyweight in an effort to avoid boredom.
The Irvin fight – Silva caught the bigger man's kick and promptly floored him with a single shot – is proof that these weren't just any old victories either. No one has lasted past the middle of the third round, as Silva has delivered spectacular knock out after spectacular knock out.
He's been the Mike Tyson of the UFC, only minus the ear biting, woman beating and facial tattoos, of course.
Such a run of dominance is sometimes difficult to appreciate while it's occurring.
This is one of the sport's all-time greats performing at his all-time greatest.
He's been so dominant that he took heat for his last victory, a third-round TKO of Patrick Cote last November. Silva never attacked Cote the way fans are accustomed to seeing, and the fight ended when Cote had his knee give out without being hit.
The crowd booed, media questioned and even UFC president Dana White admitted, "I was sitting there saying, 'What the [expletive] is going on?' "
It was undoubtedly a strange fight, yet the result was the result. Cote never hurt and hardly hit the Spider. This week Silva said he believes Cote's knee was weakened when Silva jacked it in the second round with a kick.
In the end it was an easy defense. The only thing that made it disappointing is that Anderson Silva didn't live up to the standard of Anderson Silva.
"People are expecting him to come in and knock people's heads off in the first round," Silva's manager, Ed Soares, told MMA Weekly. "So now all of the sudden people are questioning who Anderson Silva is, because he went to the third round? It's a five-round fight. He hasn't even [gone] half the fight in the UFC. Not even half the time allowed."
Silva will deal with the same high expectations Saturday in Montreal. Leites is an incredible practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu but has yet to display the stand and strike capabilities of Silva.
If the fight stays standing, it could end with fireworks. Anything less and, fair or not, fans might be disappointed. They shouldn't be.
The thing with Silva is that he should be a bigger star than he is. In a sport where Kimbo Slice became a household name, the fact that the exponentially more exciting Silva isn't is, in part, a testament to Silva himself.
He isn't easy to promote. He speaks little English and regardless of language refuses to boast. He's polite, humble and deferential to opponents. He won't even help hype the record attempt.
"I don't pay too much attention to the record," he said through a translator. "It doesn't mean that much. What's important to me is to step into the octagon and give the public and the world a good performance."
That should be enough. Silva is a breathtaking fighting machine; a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and judo. He is best known for his Muay Thai skills, including a clinch that is nearly impossible to break from.
His long limbs allow him to deliver devastating knees and elbows. His height and creativity bring punches and kicks from unusual angles. No one puts together combinations like this guy; when opponents are in trouble Silva swallows them alive. He's limber and quick and thus difficult to hit. Yet he has a large head that can take a punch on the rare occasion when he's caught.
Perhaps heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko is a better pound-for-pound fighter. It's a fair debate. In terms of combination of skill, speed and fury though, there's nothing quite like Silva.
He's the ultimate example of mixed martial arts. This is a highly-trained, world-class athlete; the antithesis of what critics wrongly believe is still some meathead, barroom, toughman competition.
"You have to be out of your mind to think he's not the best [pound-for-pound]," White said. "Not only has he gone on the tear he's gone on, cleaned out a division, but he goes up to go to 205, the most dangerous weight division in mixed martial arts, sticks his big toe in, and wins in seconds by knockout."
How long Silva is around remains to be seen. He turned 34 on Tuesday. He's a low-key guy, a father of four who seems quite content to return to his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, and live the rest of his life. He's made good money and, according to his people, has saved it. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will fight forever, although you never know.
He's discussed retirement on a number of different occasions, once saying he'd quit in 2009, another time saying he wouldn't fight past age 35, which would mean April 2010. He's also thrown out the idea of taking a shot at boxing, specifically a fight with Roy Jones Jr.
It's believed that after the Leites match, he has four more fights on his UFC contract, and Soares has said he'd fulfill that obligation. After that, who knows?
Maybe Silva is knocking guys out for years to come. Maybe not.
What's clear is he's giving a sport short on history a historic run of genius that others will be forever measured against. He's beating the best possible opponents in quick and often thrilling fashion. Enjoy it now, because it won't last forever.
Saturday the great Spider Silva goes for a UFC record. One he may hold for a long, long time.
- Anderson Silva