Anderson Silva had long ago solidified his claim as the best middleweight in the history of mixed martial arts. For most of the past few years he's been the consensus best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
After the ease in which he dismantled Yushin Okami on Saturday night at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the question that has to be asked is if he's the greatest fighter in the sport's modern history.
Silva (29-4) finished the sweep of Brazilian legends at UFC 134, the company's first show in the country in 13 years, winning by technical knockout at 2:04 of the second round.
After a close first round that had few telling blows until a head kick by Silva in the closing seconds, the middleweight champ came out in the second and overwhelmed Okami (27-6) in similar fashion to the way he took apart Forrest Griffin two years ago in Philadelphia.
Silva's win followed that of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who finished Griffin in a battle of former light heavyweight champions and re-established himself among the loaded division's elite. Earlier, former PRIDE and UFC champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, perhaps the biggest favorite of all to the Rio crowd, took out Brendan Schaub in the first round of one of the loudest events in UFC history at the sold-out HSBC Arena. Nogueira came back from two hip surgeries, a knee surgery, and several months on crutches to take the fight and didn't disappoint the home crowd.
Still, the hometown favorite's KO was overshadowed by the night's main event. It wasn't just Silva beating Okami that was so impressive, but the manner in which he did it. In the finishing sequence, Silva put his hands down by his side and basically dared Okami to take a free shot. The first time, Okami took a chance and landed a shot. Still, with Silva's ridiculous reflexes, the champ landed a counter jab that knocked Okami down faster than you could blink an eye.
At that point, Silva wouldn't go to the ground with Okami, instead backing off and letting Okami get to his feet.
Silva again baited Okami by putting his hands to his sides. This time, Okami didn't know what to do, having tasted the sting the first time around. Ultimately, he couldn't help himself and took the gimme shot, landing a left. Once again, Silva landed a solid right to the jaw to put Okami down. This time Silva figured the time was right and swarmed him with punches on the ground until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight.
Okami's only chance to win would have been a takedown and ground control game, but despite being one of the better middleweights in that kind of battle, he was never able to come even close to getting Silva off his feet. If Silva has improved his takedown defense – often considered one of his weaker areas – you're talking about a scarier version of Anderson Silva than ever before.
"I train hard for the best guys in the world," Silva said. "'Cigano' [No. 1 heavyweight title contender Junior Dos Santos] punches my face all the time." Silva was overjoyed with his win, probably because it was in his home country of Brazil, where over the past few months he's become a major sports star due to the popularity of UFC on television and his win over fellow countryman Vitor Belfort in February. In recent months, he's gotten major endorsement deals from Burger King and Nike.
While Brazil is considered MMA's birthplace, it hasn't really been a hotbed for live events for more than 40 years. The top fighters, like Silva, Rua and Nogueira, all had to leave the country to become stars. Silva and Rua hadn't fought on home soil since early in their careers when they were not big-named fighters. Nogueira, who trains one mile from the HSBC Arena and lives three miles away, had never fought previously in Brazil.
The win extended Silva's three key UFC records. His all-time Octagon win streak hit 14 bouts, even more impressive when you consider only Georges St. Pierre has ever hit nine. His all-time record for title defenses reached nine, and it really should be 10 given the fact that Travis Lutter missed weight in a 2007 title challenge. That fight was made a non-title bout and Silva submitted him in the second round. And since he will not be fighting again before Oct. 14, he will become the first UFC champion to hold a title for five consecutive years. Tito Ortiz ranks in second place at three years and five months (2000-2003), although Georges St. Pierre ties the mark at the end of next month.
Realistically, in the modern era of MMA (dating back to the beginning of UFC and Pancrase in 1993), there are three standouts in the mix for all-time greatest: Silva, St. Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko. Younger fighters like Jon Jones, Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo Jr. have impressive records, but it will take years on top before they should be talked about in the same category.
For years, the nod has gone to Emelianenko, who currently has a 31-4 record with one no contest, but he's coming off three straight losses. Emelianenko is a legend for the simple fact that he fought as a small heavyweight, giving up size to most of his opponents. But on the other hand, the heavyweight talent pool, when it comes to all-around skilled fighters, isn't comparable to other weight classes. Silva does not possess the physical strength of Emelianenko, but there is also a huge discrepancy favoring Silva when it comes to the stand-up game.
Realistically, if you throw out guys Emelianenko faced that were never legitimate name heavyweights, you get a guy with a 10-3 record, and one of those losses was Dan Henderson, a small light heavyweight pretending to be a heavyweight.
Unlike Silva, 36, and Emelianenko, 34, St. Pierre, 30, has several more years to add to his legacy. He's 22-2, and in one sense is more dominant. He rarely loses even a round, which you can't say about Silva, but he's also not the finisher Silva is.
St. Pierre is 14-2 against what you'd call high-quality opponents, which includes guys who have fought legitimately at a championship level, but he's only had six finishes in those 14 wins. So it becomes a question of winning every round in a fight, which St. Pierre did for seven straight fights against high-quality opposition (his streak ended on April 30 against Jake Shields).
Emelianenko has finished five of his 13 top-level matches.
St. Pierre lost to Matt Serra in one of the biggest championship upsets in history, but Serra is still a high-level fighter. His other loss is to Matt Hughes, a genuine legend who St. Pierre beat the next two times they met.
Emelianenko, meanwhile, lost to Tsuyoshi Kosaka due to a fluke cut (one which would have been a no-contest under modern rules), as well as Fabricio Werdum via submission and Antonio Silva via TKO in addition to the Henderson fight.
Silva's losses aren't nearly as impressive, but they were also very early in his career. The Brazilian lost to Luiz Azeredo by decision in 2000 (15-10), Akihiro Gono, Daiyu Takase (9-13-2) and Ryo Chonan (19-12, but who went 1-3 in UFC competition). The loss to Chonan was one of the greatest submission set-ups and finishes in MMA history.
Silva is 10-1 against top-level opponents, and that lone loss was the 2006 disqualification against Okami.
Since the Chonan loss, he's won 17 of 18, with 15 of those wins coming by finish. Not every opponent was a world beater, but the list includes hard-to-finish fighters like Chris Leben, Rich Franklin (twice, both quick and one-sided), Nate Marquardt, Henderson, Okami and Belfort. It also includes Griffin, the former light heavyweight champion who looked like a playground basketball hotshot facing an NBA All-Star once their fight started.
Whether you hold his early career losses against him in the all-time greatest debate, it would be pretty tough to argue against the fact that the Anderson Silva of the past seven years has more decisively and handily beaten more top-level fighters than any fighter in history over a similar career period.
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