The blazing hands and the remarkable reflexes that led Anderson Silva to become the greatest fighter in the world at his peak are long gone. He’d once see the tiniest of openings and would hit the mark time and time again.
He may never again climb the top of the mountain in mixed martial arts, but even at 43, few are better.
Silva gave as good as he got in a 15-minute battle with unbeaten wunderkind Israel Adesanya that unexpectedly became the main event of UFC 234 Saturday at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, when middleweight champion Rob Whittaker was forced to undergo emergency surgery in the middle of the night.
The Silva-Adesanya showdown was set to be a showcase for Adesanya, a star on the rise who has taken MMA by storm in his year in the UFC.
While Adesanya captured a unanimous decision by scores of 30-27 twice and 29-28, it was a competitive bout from start to finish and Adesanya wasn’t able to blow Silva out of the water like many expected.
“This is like if I played basketball and I played Michael Jordan,” Adesanya said in tribute to Silva following the bout. “Well, this is it for me.”
The respect Adesanya had for Silva was evident from the moment the fight began. When it ended, both moved to the center of the ring and went to their knees and bowed their heads in a show of respect.
Silva’s performance in his first fight in two years was enough to impress even former two-division champion Conor McGregor, who took to Twitter to rave about Silva and intimate he’d be interested in fighting him.
Silva said after the bout he hopes to fight at UFC 237 in May in Curitiba, Brazil, and McGregor has repeatedly said he hopes to fight in Brazil one day.
“Anderson is one crafty, crafty martial artist,” McGregor wrote. “You only develop these methods through years of hard fought experience. Phenomenal performance. The crafty veteran. Big respect always. It would be an honor.”
A Silva-McGregor fight is highly unlikely to happen, though. UFC president Dana White has endorsed a potential summer match with Donald Cerrone, but at the postfight news conference said of a Silva-McGregor fight, “I don’t like that fight at all.”
The bout was essentially a kickboxing match with four-ounce gloves. Adesanya had the faster hands and was consistently getting home, though he wasn’t punching in combination. Silva waited patiently for opportunities to counter, but he wasn’t able to return to his glory days when he won 16 bouts in a row and was unbeaten for nearly a decade.
By the third round, Silva’s right eye was swelling but he never was out of the fight. Adesanya showed great respect for Silva’s counters and never fully opened up.
The bout became the main event due to bizarre circumstances. After Whittaker and challenger Kelvin Gastelum successfully made weight Friday, Whittaker began having abdominal pains.
He eventually had emergency surgery at 3 a.m. for a hernia and a collapsed bowel.
In a statement posted on Facebook, a member of his team wrote, “Last night at roughly 9 p.m., Rob began experiencing intense abdominal pains that were brought to the attention of the UFC doctors. After several hours of observation he was admitted to the hospital at 3 a.m. Rob is just out of dual surgery for a twisted and collapsed bowel in addition an internal hernia of the intestine and will be recovering in the hospital for several days.”