It's rare to find an athlete who makes even the most exaggerated descriptions of his or her accomplishments seem unjust. Basketball had Michael Jordan. Football had Jerry Rice. And now Mixed Martial Arts has Anderson Silva.
In a bout in which the "Spider's" dominance of the UFC middleweight division could have been squashed, Silva weathered a strong first round before defeating PRIDE champ Dan Henderson inlast weekend'sUFC 82. Henderson reputedly had the tools to expose Silva's flaws, but he succumbed to a series of strikes and mastery on the ground as Silva unified the belts and forced fans to almost instinctively ask, "What next?"
The UFC is fortunate because Silva may soon be able to sell a card on his own -- without regard to his opponent (much like Chuck Liddell). His fighting style is as exciting and as a fluid as that of any fighter today, and he is just cocky enough to build up a healthy dose of animosity from his opponents and non-believing fans. Maybe the only flaw in his game is that he doesn't speak English very well.
The next logical fight for Silva would be a rematch against Yushin Okami, who won their January 2006 bout viadisqualification at a Rumble on the Rock event. Silva earned the DQ when, with Okami in his guard, he swung his right leg around and kicked his opponent in the face. Okami slumped to the ground and was unable to continue. The kick was illegal because Okami was on the ground when he was struck.
Given that bit of history and Okami's dominant performance against Evan Tanner at UFC 82, a title fight between the two could be compelling. Okami has been tagged as a methodical, boring fighter. However, against Tanner he appeared intent on providing excitement and remained standing much of the fight rather than resorting to his forte: wrestling. Okami knocked Tanner down in the opening moments of the first round and finished off the former UFC middleweight champ in the second round with a Silva-esque knee to Tanner's face.
Other potentially compelling opponents for Silva, such as Henderson's Team Quest teammate Matt Lindland, EliteXC champ Robbie Lawler, and WEC champ Paulo Filho, aren't signed with the UFC. Maybe after a Silva-Okami rematch, scientists really will have to get to work on cloning Silva as he has suggested in the past. Right now, though, there isn't another human being in the world that can defeat him.
Not that Henderson didn't try. At UFC 82, he took down Silva in the first round, and ground and pound the Brazilian from half-guard. Despite a number of hammer fists to the side of his head, Silva never seemed to lose composure. Instead, he patiently waited out the storm and got Henderson into a more comfortable full guard as the round ended.
Silva came out aggressive in the second round against the former U.S. Olympic wrestler and displayed the striking efficiency we've come to expect from him as the UFC champ. Although Silva officially won by submission, he set up the winning rear-naked choke by landing at least one knee and a number of punches that dazed Henderson.
A strong wrestler, Henderson didn't provide much resistance as Silva took his back on the ground and displayed a facet of his game which many UFC fans may not have been aware. Fans may also forget that Silva is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt -- a scary thought for whomever his next opponent may be.
In Andrei Arlovski's last reported fight on his current UFC contract, the former UFC heavyweight champ suffered the ignominy of fighting on the dark card in a match that didn't even make it to the pay-per-view telecast.
Early on, Arlovski's opponent, Jake O' Brien, was at his lay-and-pray best while Arlovski was tentative. O'Brien scored a takedown or two but did nothing from the top position. Then, as the second round was winding down, Arlovski tripped O'Brien, achieved mount and pounded away for a TKO victory. While the victory wasn't spectacular, it was a stoppage and may have been enough to bolster the market value of the Belarusian in the free-agent market.
So, where could Arlovski end up? EliteXC's heavyweight division needs help and its recently announced deal with CBS would give him the exposure he might otherwise lack in leaving the UFC. If the UFC can't re-sign Arlovski, EliteXC would certainly make sense.
If Arlovski were to head elsewhere, though, his void in the UFC heavyweight division could pose a problem: There aren't a lot of fighters ready to contend against interim champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. UFC President Dana White reportedly stated at the UFC 82 post-fight press conference that he has offered current champ Randy Couture the fight to unify the title against Nogueira. But barring some unforeseen change of heart from Couture, such a fight is highly unlikely.
That leaves the possibility that Nogueira might face the winner of the UFC 82 bout between Heath Herring and Cheick Kongo. Herring defeated Kongo by split decision -- a victory he deserved based on his work from side control in the second and third rounds and his first round knockdown of the Frenchman.
But Herring didn't exactly look like a title contender in that match (and even admitted afterwards that he didn't train his ground game because he expected a standup fight from Kongo). In addition, Herring has already lost to Nogueira three times, including a decision loss in the Octagon in 2007. It's unlikely that the UFC wants another meeting between the two so soon; and Kongo, while improving with each outing, is still a year or two away from being a legit contender.
So, maybe the next title defense for Nogueira should come against resurgent former UFC champ Frank Mir. That would certainly be a treat for fans of BJJ, and Mir has a high profile right now because of his victory over Brock Lesnar.
Speaking of Lesnar, we learned this weekend that the former WWE star and amateur wrestling champ's next UFC bout will come in August against Mark Coleman in Minneapolis. Coleman, 43, made the announcement on the night he was inducted into the UFC's Hall of Fame. As an old-school fighter who won two UFC tournaments in the 90's, he was the promotion's first-ever heavyweight titleholder.
In making this fight, the UFC appears to have taken a page out of the playbook of EliteXC president Gary Shaw. Shaw has a fighter, Kimbo Slice, who in many ways is at a similar point in his MMA career as Lesnar. While brimming with potential, Slice is very new to the sport. So Shaw has decided to build him up with fights against recognizable, but very beatable, opponents, such as Tank Abbott, who Slice easily dispatched just a couple of weeks ago.
While Lesnar was thrown to the wolves in his first UFC fight, White now appears to understand that the heavyweight needs more seasoning. A win against Coleman is very attainable for Lesnar, and the match would be a good business decision and promotional vehicle for the UFC.
What may not be a very good long-term business strategy for the UFC, however, is the promotion's tendency to nickel and dime consumers who want to watch a full UFC card. Pay-per-view prices average just about $50. However, at UFC 82 only six of the 10 bouts made the telecast. So, for those wanting to watch the untelevised bouts, the UFC offers on-demand video of those fights on its website. The cost of downloading each additional fight? Two dollars. Therefore, a night of UFC fights can potentially cost a viewer upwards of $60.
This strategy may need some rethinking, especially as EliteXC cards become available on free network TV (CBS). As fighters begin to leave the UFC, will fans who are tired of shelling out so much cash do the same?
One potential solution would be for the UFC to allow viewers to watch the undercard fights for free online. At the very least, such a decision would serve to get the promotion's product in front of more eyes and thus spread the brand. After all, the days of the UFC relying on its brand-name advantage may be slowly coming to an end. Millions of future MMA fans may not know the difference between the UFC and EliteXC right now, but they will once the latter comes at no cost.
Pramit Mohapatra is the founder of FightTicker.com. He can be reached at Pramit.Mohapatra@gmail.com.