Why was Anderson Silva more panache than punish against an unremarkable challenger on Saturday night?
Well, the champ and his manager, Ed Soares, can tell you the answer isn't boredom. Quite the opposite, they say.
"[Cote] was lost. He could never find me. It was a strategy," Silva said at the post-fight press conference. "I was trying to confuse him."
To be fair, Silva landed several potential fight-ending blows on Patrick Cote. As a credit to the French-Canadian, his chin held up where others wouldn't have.
But while Silva danced more than we'd like -- and claims he had good reason to -- something was missing. An appropriate level of viciousness perhaps.
With a minute remaining in Round 2, Cote, his right knee damaged, couldn't hide the pain. Though Silva had no reason to hold back, he looked instead like an indolent zoo lion eyeing yet another rack of lamb.
"I didn't come here to play," Silva said. "I didn't come here to put on a show. I came here to do my job."
From his perspective, Soares said Silva was simply waiting for the right moment to attack. And unlike previous efforts, he wasn't charged with anger. (In his last bout at middleweight, Silva became enraged when Dan Henderson repeatedly used a free hand to cover the champ's mouth.) Saturday, it took two rounds before Silva moved forward.
Before Silva finish himself, Cote struggled to regain his footing, ref Herb Dean called the fight and fans were left unsatisfied.
"If the knockout came in the third, no one would have complained," Soares said.
Maybe. Though some might still wonder what happened to the Baryshnikov of Bloodshed.
In the mood to dance, Silva actually showed some unique footwork. He added Capoeira movements, and tried to get fancy while doing his best to avoid exchanges. In the first two rounds, the missing movement was forward. With Cote pressuring until his knee gave out, Silva backpedaled, trying to find the proper range. The Brazilian was so overwhelmed, he resorted to running away at one point.
It's a shame. "The Spider" is at his best when he keeps things simple. Accuracy. Timing. Power. He vaulted up the pound-for-pound rankings over the past two years because he repeatedly handled stiff opposition. It didn't hurt that Fedor Emelianenko, the previous list topper, took nearly three years off from fighting legitimate challengers. Still, when he stepped into the ring he was dominant.
For the first time I can remember since he came to the UFC, Silva was not. A couple more fights like that and Fedor sympathizers could have a compelling argument.
So who are some potential, and certainly exciting, opponents for Silva? Try Yushin Okami, Thales Leites, Michael Bisping, Georges St. Pierre (not a middleweight, I know) and B.J. Penn.
Not a bad group. But it's limited, and the ability to create middleweight challengers hasn't been easy. Part of the reason is related to the UFC's insistence on no co-promotion. As good as he's been in the UFC, the middleweight division is one of the few in MMA where talent is spread globally. There are real tests out there, meaning, instead of being subjected to James Irvin and Cote again, least 10 fighters not under contract to Zuffa would have made for less dancing and more fighting.
Namely Cung Le. Frank Shamrock. Robbie Lawler, Vitor Belfort, MattLindland, Gegard Mousasi, Frank Trigg, Kazuo Misaki, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Denis Kang.
Solid Muay Thai fighters who develop a sprawl and an understanding of the guard have generally delivered some of the more exciting bouts in MMA history.
No one exemplifies this way of thinking more than Wanderlei Silva. But the UFC may have found another Brazilian to carry that torch: Thiago Alves. As he took it to Josh Koscheck on Saturday, Alves reminded me of a younger but far more disciplined "Axe Murderer."
When Silva was 24, he was a wildman. Alves, training out of the American Top Team camp in South Florida, has shown a restrained style in recent fights -- a feature that could make him more dangerous and less vulnerable.
Seven of the night's 20 competitors were Brazilian (they went 5-2, though two bouts were Brazil vs. Brazil.) Several definitely stood out. I already mentioned Silva and Alves, but Leites was another. Everyone knows he's pining for a submission, yet no one has come close to stopping him.
Another win or two and Leites might be the guy to step up to Anderson Silva. This sport was founded on good submission grappling. It's the one obvious trait that differentiates itself from other combat sports. To appreciate MMA, you have to be aware of the possibilities on the floor -- yeah, I'm looking at the refs working UFC 90 in Chicago.