Anderson Silva turns 40 in April. He was coming off an ugly compound fracture of his left leg that caused a 13-month layoff from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was trying to end a two-bout losing streak by fighting brawler Nick Diaz.
He was headlining UFC 183 on Saturday and knew the entire MMA world would be watching – not just to see an old fighter fight, but to see the spectacular brilliance that defined "Spider," the greatest of them all.
This is a man who won 16 UFC fights in a row stretching across a seven-year period, one often more incredible than the last.
So, yeah, there’s no excuse for taking performance-enhancing drugs, but in a sport presumably riddled with them, was there any doubt that Anderson Silva, even the great Anderson Silva, would go that route under those circumstances, those expectations, those dangers?
It’s not an excuse. It’s a nod to reality.
And so is this: in the wake of coming up positive for two anabolic steroids (drostanolone and androstane) in prefight testing before he bloodied Diaz in a unanimous decision, here’s hoping Silva calls it a career.
Here’s hoping Anderson Silva retires.
This isn’t written casually. It’s Silva’s life and Silva’s career and telling anyone how to handle either is rarely advisable. It’s done not to diminish the man’s genius, but in deference to it.
It’s just outsider's hope.
The reality is as clear as the embarrassment of these tests: time remains undefeated. Even before the PEDs came up, those who loved Silva the most, from family to fans, were fearful he was headed to an ugly close to his career.
A 39-year-old professional athlete is a rarity. A 39-year-old MMA fighter is a ticking time bomb.
“My kids say, ‘Dad, please no [going] back,” Silva said Saturday night in Las Vegas, relaying the details of a post-victory call home to his family in Curitiba, Brazil. “My sons, they don’t want me to fight … I don’t know.”
He did know though. Unless this turns out to be some testing gone bad, he knew when he decided that he needed performance enhancers to take on Nick Diaz, a hard-nosed dude, but prior to this, not any kind of threat to a talent such as Silva.
At that point, after that broken tibia and fibula suffered in his second title loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 168, he probably sensed he couldn’t just step into the Octagon against a younger man who would stand and strike and never stop standing and striking. Diaz is beatable, but he's going to make you earn it.
Silva should’ve retired after breaking his leg. His legacy was written. There was nothing left to prove. There really was nothing left he could prove.
Was he going to overcome age, time away from active fighting and the physical and mental challenges of the leg injury to come back and beat a guy like Weidman? At 30, Weidman is just getting to his prime and was already a matchup problem that had defeated Silva soundly twice in a six-month span.
Just attempting it would’ve been terrifying.
Silva instead got Diaz, a preferred matchup of styles. It delivered as expected, producing a celebration of a night, a curtain call if you will, from Silva to the legions of fans he mesmerized through the years as this sport surged.
It was a way for Silva to walk back into the same Octagon in the same MGM Grand Garden Arena where he experienced the hell of snapping his leg. This time he could leave on his terms, walking out with his hand raised and crowds chanting his name.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Silva said Saturday of the redemption. “Now it’s over.”
There was a reason he collapsed in tears when he was declared the victor. There was a reason, minutes later, he knelt in prayer in the center of the Octagon.
Now there are just questions and concerns and scheduled hearings. Who knows if the victory stands or becomes a “no contest.” There will be, unfortunately to anyone who appreciates his career, critics questioning whether this was the first time Silva went the PED route, or just the first time he got caught.
None of it is worth it. Not the fight, not the fighting.
There are a lot of pragmatic MMA fans, ones who aren’t expecting a lot out of this sport. They don't care what these guys take. It’s understandable. This isn’t golf. This is pure, base entertainment. Yet intellectually, PEDs have no place in cage fighting. It’s one thing to juice up and hit a baseball 500 feet. It’s another to fight and put your opponent at dire physical risk.
Still, most will forgive or even forget here. Testing positive once, in this situation, against a guy like Diaz who himself was caught (albeit for marijuana in a post-fight screening) can be argued away, rationalized.
What about next time? Is he going to go clean to take on presumably better competition, this time north of 40? Is anyone buying that? And what if there is a suspension that delays his career further?
The UFC would probably keep trotting him out there, of course. If not, someone will. There’s money to be made no matter what a commission in Nevada says. Plus, again, it’s rarely right to tell someone how, and how much, money to earn.
Silva is a fighter – “I love my job,” he said Saturday. Fighters fight, so he’ll probably fight again. And fight again after that, all of this just pushed to the side as fate and fraud gets taunted.
Here’s hoping he doesn't though. Here's hoping Anderson Silva saved enough millions he doesn’t need this anymore. Here’s hoping he listens to the cries of his children who don’t want him to risk his health.
Here’s hoping the greatest and most electric fighter in UFC history retires while he can still be celebrated, while the images remain so positive, while his post-fighting career appears so vibrant, before the train wreck we’ve seen before in combat sports, comes again.