Ben Fowlkes
Thursday May 22nd, 2008

There's no getting around it: Wanderlei Silva needs a victory at UFC 84.

Not just a good showing in a losing effort. Not another narrow defeat. A win. He needs to show up Saturday night looking like "The Axe Murderer" of old. He needs to pound Keith Jardine like he's Yuki Kondo and it's 2004 all over again. He needs to prove that his already remarkable career is worth continuing, worth keeping his name among the world's elite light heavyweights.

But if the fight game has proven anything, it's that just because a win is needed, a win certainly isn't guaranteed. That is especially true when facing a professional spoiler like Jardine.

In many ways this is the toughest possible matchup for Silva right now, who owns a three-fight losing streak. After a close decision-loss to Chuck Liddell in December, Silva's attempting to rebound comes against a man who not only bested "The Iceman," but who also lacks due credit. Jardine is not only bigger and stronger, but his reputation as an effective counter-striker with knockout power makes him tailor-made to beat Silva.

A fourth-straight loss is very possible for Silva, and it would create some difficult questions for both him and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. UFC president Dana White says he loves having the vicious fighter in his stable, and it's easy to see why. Silva's a hyper-aggressive knockout artist with a healthy amount of international recognition after his long title-reign in Pride. His tenacious, straight-ahead style forces opponents to engage him and, even when he loses, he's sure to put on a show.

But as exciting as Silva is to watch, White can't justify keeping him in the Octagon if he can't scrape together a victory -- and soon. Just as White criticized former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz for not having any "significant wins" in recent memory, the same can be said of Silva. The last time he beat anyone even close to the top 10 was a narrow split-decision victory against Ricardo Arona in 2005. Before that, he strung together a couple of wins against Judo practitioners Kazuhiro Nakamura and Hidehiko Yoshida back when Pride was known for manipulating its tournament brackets to get Silva into the later rounds. His last truly impressive performance was in 2004 when he earned his second knockout-victory against current UFC champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

That was the year Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champ -- before he lost the title, retired, came back to win the heavyweight strap, defended it, and then walked away from his contract. That's how long ago it was that Silva earned a landmark win -- light years in MMA terms.

Admittedly, the significant-win test is a tough standard, but if it's fair to apply it to Ortiz, then it's fair to do the same with Silva. If he can't beat Jardine (who doesn't even get to enjoy the No. 1-contender status despite having defeated the current No. 1 Forrest Griffin), then Silva starts to look like a once-great fighter on his way down -- the flipside to Silva's entertaining style.

Fighters who rely on power and aggression such as Silva tend to fade fast. He starts taking some bad beatings and finds himself less able to come back. When he's no longer explosive enough to land the one-punch knockout, he needs to be able to rely on technique and experience. If Silva can't make that adjustment -- both mentally and physically -- his career is in jeopardy.

That's not to say that Silva doesn't have it in him anymore, or that he can't adapt to become a different, though still effective, fighter. But if he doesn't rebound against Jardine, his options seem limited.

The UFC has two options. White can either keep Silva in the light heavyweight division and match him against one of their up-and-comers with the hope that, even if Silva can't pull off a win, the younger fighter will receive a boost in status, or White can move Silva down to middleweight for a fresh start. Neither bodes well for him in the long run.

Silva already secured his spot in MMA history. But if he can't reclaim some of that old magic against Jardine, Silva may have to face the possibility that his best days are behind him.

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