ROSEMONT, Ill. – Anderson Silva's corner kept screaming at him to start acting like, well, Anderson Silva. UFC president Dana White said he thought he was in an "alternate universe" and wanted someone to slap him out of this bad dream.
At the end of the first round of their UFC 90 main event, Patrick Cote, after watching Silva bizarrely bow to him, shrugged in bafflement. That wasn't even as unusual as the moment in the second round when Silva offered a hand to help Cote up off his back, rather than stomp him as you'd expect.
The Silva-Cote middleweight title fight ended in the third round when Cote blew out his knee without any contact. That was as strange, although not as much as the fight lasting to the third round in the first place.
"I was sitting there saying, 'What the [expletive] is going on?' " White said.
Everyone showed up in suburban Chicago looking for Silva to deliver one of his Mike Tyson-esque destructions of Cote, the heavy underdog. This is what Silva fights are about, some violent combination of punches, knees and kicks that render opponents senseless.
"He's a killer," White said.
Not on Saturday. While Cote deserves credit for fearlessly standing in front of him, this was about Silva, arguably the best fighter in the world, deciding not to do much fighting.
He didn't throw a purposeful punch for most of the first round. Rather than attack with his patented combinations, he danced, he pranced, he swayed and he even prayed. He did little hand tricks, Muhammad Ali feet shuffles and ran around in circles.
"If you don't know him and you showed up for the first time, you'd [think] that guy was goofing around, he was acting arrogant and cocky and trying to play with [Cote] like he was a little kid," White said. "That is not this guy's style, that's not his personality, that's not who he is."
No it isn't. Silva, afterward, apologized for his performance yet also defended it, claiming he wasn't out there playing and he was just throwing Cote off his game. He sounded as confused as everyone else.
The theories of what happened are endless. Perhaps he didn't respect Cote and was unprepared. Perhaps he felt the need to deliver an entertaining show to the fans. Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps all the talk about switching to boxing or retiring outright, got to him. Perhaps he felt pressure to finish with a spectacular knockout.
Whatever it was, the solution is simple.
White needs to feed Silva opponents that'll either motivate him to bring his "A" game or make him pay for any mental lapses.
Give him Chuck Liddell on Super Bowl weekend at UFC 94. If he survives that, give him Georges St. Pierre back at middleweight to headline the historic UFC 100 early next summer. Then have him go back to light heavyweight for a shot at whoever has the title after that.
Give him anything but what he's gotten his last two fights, opponents that weren't capable of hurting him and thus incapable of bringing out his best.
"I don't know, I've got to think about it," White said of Silva's next opponent.
He would only smile at the suggestion of Liddell, the former light heavyweight champion, which means he's certainly considering what would be a major pay-per-view draw. He did say he thought Silva wanted to return to 205 pounds for his next fight (Saturday's was at 185).
Mostly White was searching for answers just like everyone else. Over the past two years Silva (23-4) has been his most reliable meal ticket. You put the Brazilian in the octagon and someone gets finished; often quickly and in spectacular fashion.
Until Saturday, no one in the UFC had lasted past the second round with the guy. He wasn't just considered by many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but the most exciting.
He was the perfect headliner for the UFC's first card in the Second City. Cote is a tough guy who wasn't backing down, but few outside his diehard fans thought Silva would need more than a few minutes to send everyone home buzzing about the UFC.
Instead fans were booing at the end, as much at Silva as the disappointment of Cote's knee giving out.
"I was sitting there going, 'No, this isn't happening,' " White said.
In the end, if this is what constitutes an off night and an emotional letdown for Silva, then it isn't too bad. Cote got a couple shots in, but not nearly enough for the fight to be in doubt. It's why White didn't look too interested in an immediate rematch even if Cote was healthy.
So give Silva a challenge he can't afford to sleepwalk through. End the Knockouts Across America parade, give up on the middleweight division he has annihilated and find him some mega-fights that will bring out his best.
Chuck Liddell is waiting at 205. GSP (no matter what happens against B.J. Penn) can move up and challenge at 185. Acquiring a second title has always been Silva's dream and should motivate if he's still rolling after that.
"I'll tell you this," White said. "I wouldn't want to be the next dude that has to fight him because he's not happy."
Then raise the bar and bring it on.