MONTREAL – Anderson Silva wasn't one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's biggest pay-per-view draws despite a slew of highlight reel knockouts and a reputation as the finest mixed martial arts fighter in the world.
After Saturday's performance, the toughest job in sports may belong to the person who has to devise a marketing campaign for his next fight.
Silva won a unanimous decision over Thales Leites in the main event of UFC 97 on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, but it was such a mystifying and dreadful performance that it left UFC president Dana White angry and embarrassed.
"I can honestly tell you that I've never put on an event that I was embarrassed to be at until tonight," White said. "I want to publicly apologize to all the fans."
Leites was flopping onto the ground at the first sign Silva would throw a punch at him, hoping to turn it into a grappling contest. Silva, though, wouldn't fall for the bait and forced Leites repeatedly to stand.
And while it was admittedly hard to look good with the way Leites was fighting, the man who is supposedly the best fighter in the world needs to find a way to force the action.
It's the second consecutive time that Silva has been in such a fight. At UFC 90 in October, White was so mystified by Silva's lack of aggression that he said he thought he was in "bizarro world" watching it.
Silva had an unlikely ally Saturday in Chuck Liddell, whose career likely ended earlier in the night when he was knocked out by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Liddell clearly placed more of the blame for the lack of action on Leites' unwillingness to engage even a little.
"He was attacking the whole time," Liddell said of Silva. "It's a frustrating fight for a striker when every time you go to hit a guy, he falls on his back."
Silva is paid big money to hit his opponents and then knock them on their backs. For the second fight in a row, he failed to let his hands and feet go and fought a measured, controlled fight.
The crowd of 21,451 at the Bell Centre was booing a minute into the fight and by the final round, it was chanting an obscenity in an attempt to convey its displeasure.
White planned to have a long conversation with Silva and manager Ed Soares following the postfight news conference. During the fight, White got up from his cageside seat and walked over to Soares and gave him an earful.
Just as he was in Chicago, though, Silva was singularly unaffected. He had the air of a man who had just performed his job exceptionally, rather than one who had more than 20,000 people in the building and thousands more watching on television at home feeling he'd cheated them out of their money.
"Everything I trained to do, I did," Silva said.
It's one of his stock answers these days, as he repeated it incessantly prior to the fight in response to numerous queries about his performance against Cote.
But the bottom line is this: If Silva is going to be the big star, if he's going to make the big paycheck, then he has to realize it's incumbent upon him to put on a show. Liddell has now lost four of his last five and has been knocked cold in three of them, but he came to fight and made his bout entertaining for as long as it lasted.
The same can't be said of Silva, who doesn't seem to grasp that he's not carrying his end of the bargain.
"I apologize. I personally apologize for what happened tonight," White said. "You guys know, this isn't what the UFC was built on and this isn't the way the fights usually go. Listen, any night you can have an off-night. When a guy is that talented and can literally end a fight whenever he wants to, wow."
Leites clearly deserves his share of the blame for the debacle that was the main event. He had a three-month training camp and knew he'd have to deal with Silva's striking at some point.
The challenger, though, simply ignored that facet of the game. He backpedaled until he could go back no more and then, more often than not, fell to his back hoping to sucker Silva into a jiu-jitsu fight.
It never worked. And when Silva did manage to keep the fight standing, he didn't force the action and try to knock Leites out.
"I'm comfortable with people's opinion, because they have a right to their opinion, but when I went out there, everything I [prepared for] in training, I felt I executed in the fight. My game plan was that I wanted to go to the later rounds with Thales. I was unable to finish. Sometimes I'm able to finish guys and sometimes I'm not able to. But I felt I proved to everybody that I'm able to go five rounds and that I'm in good shape."
Nobody really wanted to see that, though. They purchased big money for the tickets – the paid gate at the Bell Centre was $4.9 million – to see him blast Leites and get rid of him as early and as violently as possible.
The only thing that may change Silva's performance at this point is to give him an opponent he feels may be able to defeat him. White was pressed a lot about making a fight between Silva and welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, but he noted St. Pierre has a difficult bout upcoming against Thiago Alves.
The other option is for him to move up again, however briefly, to light heavyweight and challenge one of the slew of great strikers who compete in that division.
"We've got to do something," White said, shaking his head. "Watching that was hard. That was tough to take. It was embarrassing, honestly. It was really and truly embarrassing."
- Anderson Silva
- Thales Leites
- Dana White