Did Anderson Silva take a dive? No -- here's why
Dissatisfied. Elated. Confused. Infuriated. Contented. Cheated.
Those words and probably 20 more describe the gamut of emotions that MMA fans felt after watching Anderson Silva's seven-year reign as UFC middleweight champion come to its climatic end with the kiss of Chris Weidman's glove at UFC 162 on Saturday.
It wasn't a questionable stoppage -- the final blow came clean, and as Silva's head bounced off the mat, the whites of his eyes clearly visible, there was no question that it was over. It was how we got there and the perplexing, taunting dance that Silva performed for the six minutes prior -- one that left him incredibly vulnerable to Weidman's advances -- that caused one of the most fervent uproars the sport has seen.
The message boards didn't light up; they combusted. Cyber brawls broke out over the bout's legitimacy. Had we just watched the champion throw a fight? Was the fix in on the biggest fight of the summer?
Here are three thoughts that might bring some clarity:
1. The words "fix," "UFC" and "Zuffa" shouldn't be uttered in the same sentence for one simple reason. Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, who have an 81-percent majority stake in UFC parent company Zuffa LLC the last time I checked, are also the owners of a chain of Las Vegas casinos. Station Casinos' 16 gambling properties net hundreds of millions a year, so there's no way the Fertitta family would compromise their Nevada state gaming license with an impropriety like fight-fixing. In late April, Station-owned Ultimate Poker launched as the first legal pay-for-play online gambling site in the U.S., courtesy of the Fertitta's Nevada-issued interactive gaming license, and it's already doing swift business. There's just no way the Fertittas would gamble all that over one measly fight.
Now can we talk about the damage a fixed fight would do to the legitimacy of the UFC and the sport? Oh yeah. Zuffa would jeopardize a seven-year deal with Fox worth $90 million, its ambitious world expansion plans consisting of dozens of TV deals, its lucrative merchandizing empire -- all to make sure the underdog won and it could set up the rematch. Yeah, that sounds reasonable.
In my dozen years covering the sport, not once have I gotten even a hint that a Zuffa-era UFC fight was tampered with in the slightest. Trust me, that type of secret -- one of potentially catastrophic proportions -- wouldn't hold up a week in the MMA sphere. It would have surfaced in some shape or form, and spread like wildfire.
So, is it possible that Silva himself, unbeknownst to Zuffa, fixed the fight by taking a dive? This brings us to No. 2.
2. What was Silva thinking? Silva's motivation in this fight is really at the center of this controversy. He's showboated plenty in previous fights, flaunting his superior reactionary skills and general prowess before finishing off his prey. As my colleague Jeff Wagenheim puts it, Silva likes to play with fire. On Saturday, he amplified those antics to a whole new level, hurdling a bonfire over and over like a drunken teenager at a beach party. In the second round, he slipped into the flames and was finally consumed.
Why didn't Silva just fight, you ask? The short answer is he did in his own quirky way. Somewhere during these seven years, whether out of pride or boredom or a combination of both, Silva decided his fights would become a game of catch-me-if-you-can. It became a part of his strategy to play with his opponents mentally, to drop his hands, to egg them on toward him. No opponent could ever touch him in their attack, which opened them up for Silva's counters. Over time, as Silva's tactics produced results fight after fight, fans grew to appreciate it.
Saturday was his biggest heist ever, the fight where he pushed the envelope so far that it began to look and feel bizarre. Sure, the fans were howling as he chided Weidman like a teacher with his student during the first round. But the problem with Silva's style is that it's only appreciated if he wins. When he loses, it morphs into something else entirely: disrespect toward his opponent, Weidman, and selfishness with the fans who'd paid thousands to spend their weekend in Vegas watching him fight live.
The irony here is I think Silva fights this way not only to challenge himself, but also to entertain the fans. To him, he's creating an experience -- a living art installment, if you will. However, when it all comes crumbling down, fans are left unfulfilled. They know they didn't see Silva perform to his ability and the bout doesn't answer the one question it's supposed to: who was the better fighter tonight?
Why did Silva choose this fight to bring his "art" to a whole new level? His post-fight comments certainly muddied the waters on that one. He said he was tired. He doesn't want a rematch. He doesn't want to fight for a title again. All statements that can lead one to believe that he somehow "gave up" the fight. Was this his way of avoiding the superfights he seemed to be indifferent about? Was this his clever way of getting off the carousel and running for the exit? It's difficult to believe a top-notch competitor would think this way. The reality is that no athlete ever wants to lose, especially by knockout. Knockouts aren't fun. You lose a block of your memory. You're required to go to the hospital afterward. You have to undergo a barrage of tests.
Silva knew he was facing a young, hungry and capable opponent. He chose to walk the tightrope as he did, and this time he fell. From his post-fight speech, we can tell Silva had come to terms with falling a long time ago. Every performer understands that they will sometimes fail, but that doesn't stop them from going out there and taking chances for their art. In the end, that's all this really was.
3. We need to move on. It will be Silva's decision alone to rematch Weidman. He made it clear in his post-fight speech that he wants no part of it, but he'd also had his clock cleaned just a few minutes earlier.
One thing is very apparent. The 38-year-old Silva needs a break. Let's give him a few months to step away, spend time with a family that's missed him dearly the last seven years, reassess, reignite the fire -- whatever it is he needs to make his next decision. And after his sabbatical, if Silva decides that he's accomplished everything he's wanted to and will retire, let's gracefully let him go and celebrate the legacy of fights he's left for us to enjoy.
We need to understand that Silva's life is his, not ours. He's put in his time for this sport and people's motivations and priorities change. Silva's made enough money to support his wife and five children for years to come. Now he wants to give them something much more valuable -- his time and love. If that isn't more evident than the tweet he put out on Monday (see photos above), I don't know what else would be. If we never get to see the Silva-Weidman rematch, tough. It's not our decision.
Let's finally give the new champion some credit. Weidman worked with what Silva gave him. He wasn't lured into the web that Silva so successfully weaved so many times before. He swung and he landed. If you're unconvinced of the young champion's talents, Weidman's worth will be proven or not soon enough with challengers like Vitor Belfort, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and Mark Munoz nipping at his heels.
Let's not overlook the spectacular performances he watched on Saturday. Outside the main event, UFC 162 produced some promising developments in other divisions. Cub Swanson ripped through Dennis Siver in brutal fashion, added to his five-fight win streak and inched another step closer to a rematch with featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Mark Munoz rebounded with a masterful display of ground warfare to take out kickboxer Tim Boetsch, reminding us he's one to watch as he moves toward a rematch with freshly minted champion Weidman.
It's time to move on. Leave the headaches of wrangling up fighters for rematches to Dana White. That's what he gets paid for.