LAS VEGAS – UFC president Dana White has been relentless in his criticism of ex-PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko over the past several years.
White has criticized and mocked the popular Russian for failing to face top competition and taking on inexperienced and even smaller fighters over the past three years.
But upon learning that Emelianenko had submitted ex-UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia on Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., in less than a minute, White unflinchingly admitted he was impressed.
"It does (change my opinion)," he conceded. "Tim Sylvia was a real opponent."
But it didn't change his opinion enough to make him reconsider his opinion that Anderson Silva is the world's best fighter.
"Not at all," White said, beaming. "Do you even need to ask me after that?"
In a career filled with highlight reel knockouts, Silva put together one of his best in his debut at light heavyweight Saturday at the Pearl at the Palms. He caught a kick from James Irvin, connected with a straight right hand that all but knocked Irvin cold and then finished the ex-college football player with a brutal ground-and-pound.
"Like a chess game, he happened to move the wrong piece and I countered," Silva said.
It only took him 61 seconds to win a fight that he accepted on short notice despite the risk of moving to light heavyweight for the first time. Irvin is a powerful puncher who's had his own spectacular knockouts, having set a UFC record in April when he knocked Houston Alexander out in eight seconds.
None of it mattered much to Silva, though, who looked as comfortable as a 205-pounder as he did in tearing apart quality fighters like Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson at 185 pounds.
Silva's power against a man that much bigger was stunning, but Brandon Vera, who dropped to light heavyweight and won a lackluster decision over Reese Andy on the undercard earlier Saturday, said it isn't so much Silva's power that makes him special as it is the placement of his punches.
"With Anderson, I don't think it's really his power, it's his precision" Vera said. "You could give him a target a mile down the road and have him shoot at it and he would hit it dead center every time. I think it's his precision and speed, it's not his power. He's not relying on power. It's technique, man. He makes it look like ballet."
It wasn't the kind of ballet that Mikhail Baryshnikov would have done well in, though. It's a sudden, hard, concussive ballet.
Irvin, who once was a defensive back at Azusa Pacific, went down from the right hand as if he were blocked by a 320-pound All-Pro tackle leading a sweep.
Silva pounced on him and pounded away, but it was all but unnecessary, as Irvin was motionless from the right.
As good as he looked against Irvin – not one of the division's elite, but a solid middle-of-the-road light heavyweight – Silva said it would not change his mind about returning to middleweight.
He's likely to fight at UFC 88 in Atlanta on Sept. 6 against Patrick Cote. Yushin Okami, who was to have gotten the title fight, broke his hand and won't be able to make it.
Silva left little doubt that he could be as successful at light heavyweight as he has been at middleweight. But he told White he wants to "completely clean out" the division and will, for the time being, only look at light heavyweight bouts if there is a special event which can be made.
Franklin, the ex-middleweight champion who twice was destroyed by Silva, is moving up to light heavyweight to face Matt Hamill and had to be thrilled to hear Silva is going to remain at middleweight, far, far away from him.
"I say this all the time, but we have a great 185-pound division," White said. "The problem is, the champion is so damn good that he makes it look like it's not. The guy is an amazing athlete and an incredible fighter. I expected an amazing fight tonight with Irvin.
"I thought there was going to be some back-and-forth. I thought there were going to bang and, wow."
Emelianenko hadn't faced a ranked heavyweight since he beat Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic on Aug. 28, 2005. Since then, he's faced a middleweight, a man in his second pro mixed martial arts bout and a series of other less than overwhelming opponents.
His performance against Sylvia erased any of those doubts, led most vocally by White, about his ability and may gain him much ground in the pound-for-pound rankings.
Silva, though, said he's convinced the best fighters compete in the UFC, despite what Emelianenko was able to do to a two-time UFC heavyweight king.
"Once again, I think the UFC proved that it has the best fighters in the world," Silva said. "If there were any event out there that would have the (courage) to put a team to fight against a UFC team, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be a slaughter."
White loved everything he saw, and most of what he heard, from Silva on Saturday. But White is notorious for not co-promoting his bouts and he wasn't about to bend on that even if his best fighter is urging him to do it.
"One more question," White said, laughing, when asked if he'd put together a show such as Silva described.
There will be much debate how a show like that would come out. But there's little doubt who would come out on top at middleweight.
"Man, Anderson Silva," Vera said, shaking his head. "Dana mentioned Anderson is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, arguably. He showed it tonight. He jumped up to 205 and gave it to James like it was nobody's business. James is a friend of mine and he went in there like a soldier, but Anderson Silva. Pretty much, all you need to say is his name. It's almost a household word (in this sport), like Michael Jordan (in basketball). Wow."