July 19, 2012

His slow start against Chael Sonnen. His fast finish. His next step. His lasting legacy.

Anderson Silva sure is on people's minds.

He always has been, I suppose, at least since he began reeling off victories -- he's at 16 straight and counting -- upon arriving in the UFC six years ago. But in so many of those trips inside the octagon the middleweight champion appeared to be bored with his job, and fans seemed no more enthusiastic. What was there to say about a man who, while showing enough flashes of grace and marksmanship to win fight after fight, at times seemed to be a prisoner of the cage? Where was the joie de vivre?

Silva found it in the days prior to UFC 148. Sonnen's nonstop barrage of nastiness finally got to "The Spider," and his stoic demeanor burst into flames. I thought Anderson's uncharacteristic pre-fight explosions would haunt him, my theory being that his quiet manner had always served him well in the octagon, and maybe carrying so much venom inside would poison him. Maybe he wouldn't be the same fighter.

So much for that hypothesis. Silva withstood the best that Sonnen could dish out in the first round a couple of weekends ago, then took him out swiftly and violently in the second.

And we were on to the next frontier waiting to be conquered. Or not. Maybe there's a superfight in Silva's future, or maybe we'll have to settle for seeing his super skills on display against the best that the 185-pound weight class has to offer. Whatever the future holds, fans are on board. If the UFC 148 main event drove anything home for the fight-game public, it's that we're witnessing someone special at work. Someone to talk about.

Readers have had much to say about Silva on all fronts, from the Sonnen fights to the proposed (dreamed about?) superfight with Jon Jones. Emails and tweets have been pouring in ever since fight night, most of them getting into Silva's business. Let's start with a nice one:

I don't believe I've ever read one of your pieces before. You don't find too many MMA articles on the home page of CNN.com. I just wanted to compliment you on your article about the potential superfight between Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. It was extremely well written and very entertaining. I actually laughed out loud twice, which is rare when I'm alone.--Aric, Portland, Ore.

I am printing your kind note, Aric, not to give myself a pat on the back but simply to prove to myself that MMA fans do have a sense of humor. I was having my doubts shortly after "A Viewers' Guide to UFC 148" was published. The format for those preview pieces includes a "Fighting Words" section, where I feature any trash talk that the main eventers might have exchanged. But with Chael Sonnen having basically backed a garbage truck into Anderson Silva's driveway and dumped a smelly pile of trash into the champ's yard every day for months, and with Silva having finally put away the stoic mask and responded with the most biting venom I could remember, I was on trash talk overload. We'd heard it all, over and over and over. Did we need to hear it again? So under the "Fighting Words" headline I wrote, "Sorry, folks, we have nothing to offer you, as these two gentlemen have spoken of each other with nothing but the utmost respect." I thought that was funny. Not everyone agreed.

Why in the world would you say "these two gentlemen have spoken of each other with nothing but the utmost respect"? That is wildly incorrect and a gross understatement. Do you usually cover MMA? To leave "Fighting Words" blank probably has a lot of readers asking if you are even a casual fan.

If you followed the sport, you would understand that a statement like that is very untrue and almost sacrilegious. Sonnen has for two years used nothing but disparaging comments to describe Silva. He has insulted his family (including his wife), his training partners, his manager and not to mention the nation of Brazil as a whole. There are countless quotes and interviews which would give you more than enough to include at least one in this "Fighting Words" section.

I like to read articles about the sport I love, but I have to stop and wonder if you're just covering the fight to write your article but at the same time do not know enough about the fight to write one. Sorry for the criticism, but I believe if you're writing for SI, you should probably research what you're writing about a little more thoroughly.--Steve, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Just wondering why in your "Fighting Words" section you didn't bring up all the [expletive] talk. These two have had more to say about each other than any fight I can remember. Did you just need to write your article to fill an obligation? Well, sir, you also have an obligation to the fans to write about what's really happening.

Your statement that these two have spoken to each other with "nothing but the utmost respect" is a clear indication that you have no interest in MMA. So why bother writing the article? That is a major mistake to overlook all they've said in a section called "Fighting Words." How hard would it be to update and include what's been said, at least in part?


Minus-1 point for journalism flaw. Sheeeeesh.--Miranda, parts unknown

Sheeeesh, indeed.

One thing I notice you didn't mention in the item about other fighters' predictions for Silva vs. Sonnen was the fact that both of SI's main MMA writers picked Sonnen. Just sayin'.--Jack, Waterville, Maine

Yes, Jack, it's true. Ben Fowlkes did pick Chael, as did some other writer whose name slips my mind at the moment. And then there was this omission ...

In the UFC 148 preview, you forgot something in the "Chael Sonnen by the Numbers" section:

1: Number of drug tests failed after his last fight with Anderson Silva.

I'm not saying that is a major reason why Sonnen had so much success in the first fight with Silva, but you didn't even mention it once in your entire article.--Kyle, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Fair point, Kyle, one also made by several other readers, most of whom were not as civil -- and creative -- in expressing their feelings about Sonnen and his 2010 suspension for not properly disclosing his testosterone replacement therapy. I did mention that situation in some of my pre-fight stories, but it should have found a way into my main fight preview. That oversight should prove that I am not on a performance enhancing drug.

In my opinion, Round 1 was Silva's rope-a-dope, like Ali vs. Foreman. Even the Sensei said it.--@JHaroldJenkins via Twitter

Well, if Steven Seagal said it, it must be true ... if by "true" we mean "self-serving bull." I feel comfortable being so frank with you because I get the feeling that you had your tongue planted firmly in your cheek with the "sensei" reference. You did, didn't you? Hello?

I agree that a Silva-Jones megafight would be nice, but I actually love the fact that these two continue to mop up their own weight classes and choose not to cross over. The very best of this generation are where they're supposed to be: right on top. No need to jeopardize that beauty with a purely selfish matchup. There are plenty of challengers out there that Dana White can put a good spin on to sell PPVs.--Peter, Boston, Mass.

True, there's no need for Silva and Jones to close their 20-pound weight differential and fight each other, but I sure would welcome it and would not term it "purely selfish." I think the fight would make sense on many levels. It's just not mandatory.

Only stupid people want to see a fight between two people who are not motivated to fight each other. Those of us who understand MMA know how bad a fight is when someone isn't into it.--Rob, Washington, D.C.

I understand what you're saying, Rob, but I don't agree. (Go ahead, call me stupid.) If Silva and Jones stepped into the octagon together, I have no doubt that their competitiveness would take over and they'd put it all on the line. I'd love to see them go at it.

Not everyone is ruled by money. The American public needs to understand values of self-dignity, honor and respect as exhibited in this mutual decision by these two great men.--Katelyn, Grand Rapids, Mich.

I don't feel comfortable calling Silva and Jones "great men" simply because they've declined to fight each other. They have their reasons, and I respect that. But I don't see greatness being any part of their decision. Let them fight and donate to charity the millions of dollars the bout would generate, and then I'd call them great.

Another reason why it won't happen: legacy. Assuming they continue their dominance, each can lay claim to being the best pound-for-pound fighter ever -- which wouldn't be possible if one beat the other.--Joel, New York, N.Y.

Jones pretty much confirmed your theory, Joel, when he spoke about a concern over sponsorships being a factor in his decision not to pursue a Silva fight. I will say this: Silva is surely in the discussion when assessing who's the greatest of all time, and yes, avoiding a slip-up against Jones would keep him in the discussion. But if he were to beat Jones, that'd be the end of the discussion. The mountaintop would be all his.

I won't call Silva a coward, but think about this: Georges St-Pierre is 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds, which is four inches shorter and about 25-30 pounds smaller than Silva, who is 6-2 and about 215-220. Jon Jones is 6-4 and around 230-235. Silva would be open to fight GSP but not Jones?--Hilario, San Benito, Texas

I think you basically did call Silva a coward, Hilario. Or maybe a bully, for picking on someone smaller than him. And all the facts you laid out are true. But I take no issue with him declining to pack on extra pounds to challenge the light heavyweight champion while at the same time welcoming the welterweight belt holder to come up to meet him if he so chooses.

I've always felt Rashad Evans was a bit on the smallish side at 205 pounds and would love to see what he could do against Anderson Silva.--Mike, Indialantic, Fla.

Let's get it on. (Hope I didn't just violate a "Big" John McCarthy trademark.)

I was born in Brazil, so I like Anderson Silva and I think he is the best now -- but not of all time! To be that, he would need to be like Fedor: undefeated for 30 fights or so. Do not listen to Dana White. He just promotes his own people.--Wilson, Tampa, Fla.

I don't think this is the time or place for a greatest-of-all-time debate, but as I said before, Silva's 16 straight victories are enough to qualify him for the discussion. Another selling point for Anderson: He hasn't been diminished in fans' eyes, as Emelianenko was in his final fights. Just as my lingering remembrance of the great Willie Mays is of him stumbling around the Mets outfield in his final days, it is difficult to set aside Fedor's career-ending doldrums -- three straight losses, followed by three money-grab wins over irrelevant opponents.

If you were Zuffa, what would you do with Strikeforce? With the amount of weak UFC cards this year (just look at the Bones vs. Hendo lineup), you would assume that the Strikeforce talent would add some much-needed help to the lacking cards. Thoughts?--Stephen, Lethbridge, Alberta

I don't know if adding Strikeforce talent is the solution for the UFC. But maybe a reversal of that feeder flow would work. Know where I got that idea? I got it from where all good ideas come: from one of you guys. Read on:

What do you think of cross-populating Strikeforce with some UFC fighters who are struggling or who are no longer viable contenders for a UFC championship? Think Rich Franklin or Wanderlei Silva, and there are a bunch of others. Put them in with Strikeforce champs. It would be an excellent benchmark for, say, Luke Rockhold to test his mettle, and would give a veteran a chance at another belt. Genius, right?--Joe, Mission Viejo, Calif.

That sounds like so sensible a plan that it'll probably never happen. At this point, Strikeforce seems to have no direction. How are we supposed to look at a guy like Gilbert Melendez, for instance? He's considered one of the best lightweights in the world -- Nate Diaz, his training partner and the UFC's No. 2 contender behind Frankie Edgar, says Gil is the best -- yet we never get to measure him against the other top 155-pounders, as we do Edgar, Diaz, UFC champion Benson Henderson and others. If Strikeforce weren't owned by the same company that owns the UFC, this situation would be workable. But there are too many moving parts here.

Urijah Faber, who lost to Mike Brown twice, José Aldo and Dominick Cruz, gets a title shot? How does this work? Is the UFC some sort of alternate reality?--@CitizenDino via Twitter

The UFC is not only the sanctioning body that awards championship belts but also the promoter that makes money by making fights that will sell. To the credit of Dana White & Co., that conflict of interest actually doesn't derail the fight-game meritocracy as much as it potentially could. For the most part, the UFC gets it right.

On that note, I do have to put in a good word for Urijah. It's true that he's lost four of his last nine fights, but look at his conquerors' names: They've all been champions.

Clay Guida's audible on the Jackson-Winklejohn game plan would have worked perfectly if he just had more time for it to play out. When Gentleman Jim Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan for boxing's heavyweight crown in 1892, it was Corbett's scientific boxing that carried the day against Sullivan's slugger style. That being said, it still took until the 21st round before one of Corbett's powder-puff jabs finally finished Sullivan by knockout. I'm sure if Clay had 20 or more rounds to keep buzzing around the octagon, even an incidental impact by one of Guida's braids on Maynard's chin would have finished the Bully off.--Patrick, Rahway, N.J.

You're clearly a history buff, Patrick, so you'll surely appreciate this little-known fact: Greg Jackson's great-great-grandfather was in Gentleman Jim's corner that night.

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