CHICAGO – I mentioned to a couple of buddies last week that I was heading here to cover UFC 90 and was interested in finding the best deep dish pizza.
I'm somewhat of a connoisseur of pizza, as anyone who has seen my waistline in recent years can attest. When I was a kid, my diet was pretty much hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. As a worldly, sophisticated adult with a palate to match, of course my tastes have changed.
And so, these days, the diet consists mainly of burritos from Zaba's, Nathan's hot dogs, Double Doubles with spread and onion only from In 'N' Out Burger and the thin crust Pepperoni Lover's from Pizza Hut (which is only because I've found no truly good independent shops in Las Vegas).
Your version of what is great may vary slightly from mine. Maybe you like lettuce and tomato on your Double Double. But you get the point.
Not everyone agrees when the topic of "best" anything is broached.
More and more of the world, though, is beginning to agree on the subject of the best in mixed martial arts.
Best fighter? Easy, if you ask UFC president Dana White. White, who admittedly is the most biased guy in the house, said not only is Anderson Silva the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but also he might be the best fighter of all time.
Silva will defend his middleweight championship against Patrick Cote in the main event of UFC 90 at Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont, Ill., on Saturday. To hear White talk, the expected sellout crowd will get a glimpse at essentially the Michael Jordan of MMA.
"That's a good question," White said when asked who the best fighter he'd ever seen was before Silva. "You're talking about a lot of guys who came from one style. Chuck Liddell was great at one time in the UFC. Randy Couture. There were a lot of guys. But as this thing continues to evolve, you'll see the difference. It's a tough question to answer, but there is no doubt about it (that no one has mixed it together better than Silva)."
Silva, of course, wouldn't offer a thought on the subject. But whenever one man receives so much adulation and so much acclaim as "the greatest," the possibility has to at least be considered that he is overrated.
Welterweight Thiago Alves, who meets Josh Koscheck in the primary undercard bout with a shot at the title currently held by Georges St. Pierre hanging in the balance, conceded that could be a concern.
"Anderson is awesome, no doubt about it, but nobody can be as good as all the talk you hear all the time," Alves said. "He has so many ways to win. If I'm going to fight him, whew, where do you start to come up with a plan? It's tough. But that's what you expect when you're fighting the best fighter in the world. You don't expect it to be easy. You expect it to be hard to come up with a game plan. But every fighter has holes. Every one of us does. There is no one who has lived who doesn't. The question is, is someone good enough to be able to take advantage of those holes?"
Silva is the top-rated fighter in the Yahoo! Sports poll, having drawn 11 of the 16 first-place votes to outdistance World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko, the poll's runner-up.
Emelianenko was once almost universally – and reverentially – regarded as the pound-for-pound king, until White began politicking against him. Emelianenko was a unanimous choice in the inaugural Yahoo! Sports poll in 2007, but after White began public decrying his lack of recent quality opposition, voters in the poll began to go in a different direction.
Emelianenko has finally faced a quality opponent in July and needed just 36 seconds to submit ex-UFC champion Tim Sylvia, but no one has a current longer run of significant wins than Silva. Since 2006, when he joined the UFC, he's had victories over Chris Leben, Rich Franklin twice, Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson and James Irvin.
He's barely been challenged in that span.
World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion Miguel Torres, who is seventh in the Yahoo! Sports rankings, said he loves Silva and that he's frequently awed by what Silva is able to accomplish in the octagon.
Having said that, the question of Silva being overrated is not so much a media matter or a fan matter but one that resides between Silva's ears, Torres said. If he ignores the distractions that come with the attention, he'll be able to maintain and even increase his level.
"If he doesn't let it get into his head and remembers his roots and continues to train the same way for his fights and comes the way he has in the past, he will do well," Torres said. "A lot of fighters when they get hype like he's getting, they let it get in their heads. I've seen it. They train less. They party more. And they take it easy, because they think the hype is real. But to tell you the truth, I don't think Anderson is that kind of a guy."
White almost got offended when asked if Silva had a weakness and began listing this long string of his strengths: powerful hands, great kicks, dangerous knees, vicious elbows, world-class jiu jitsu. He could go on, but he was running out of breath.
"I don't care if it's boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, mixed martial arts, pinochle, I don't care what it is, this guy is the best fighter in the world," White said.
But though he's got more than 10,000 seats and a venue-record of $2.7 million worth of tickets already sold, he's still the promoter of the fight and needs to get people to buy the remaining seats as well as to purchase the pay-per-view.
And to do that, he has to try to convince them that Cote somehow has a chance to win.
He did it by saying that "crazy (stuff)" occasionally happens in mixed martial arts.
Silva agreed that crazy stuff happens and went on to heap praise upon Cote as if he were more accomplished in MMA than Jordan was in basketball, Ernie Banks was in baseball, Dick Butkus was in football and Bobby Hull was in hockey.
But he wouldn't fall into the trap of talking about the best fighter in the world. No matter how hard he was prodded, he'd only grin and wouldn't take the bait.
"Maybe it's you," he said, patting a bald and paunchy reporter on his considerable belly, where hours earlier considerable quantities of so-so deep dish pizza had gone. "It's not me. And I won't fight you. So maybe it's you."
The moral is, be wary of any fat, bald guys you run into in a pizza joint, and expect a lot from Anderson Silva as long as he remains the humble, self-effacing guy he is today.