Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 2. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.
As Barry Sanders represented the antithesis of three yards and a cloud of dust, watching Anderson Silva's ballet of violence is to appreciate mixed martial arts for its elegance, if you permit yourself to find it.
Silva -- the dominant 33-year-old middleweight champion of the UFC -- performed with equal parts skill, brutality and showmanship in 2008, winning each of his three fights to set himself apart from peers for the second-consecutive year. He is the most explosive talent in the most explosive sport and my nomination for Sportsman of the Year.
All arms and legs, the slender 6-foot-2 Brazilian conflates precision with power, agility with aggression. In March he beat Dan Henderson. In July he stepped up in weight before knocking out James Irvin in one minute. And at the end of October, Silva's lore grew when his opponent, Montreal's Patrick Cote, expressed jubilance in simply surviving into the third round.
Henderson, an Olympic wrestler who adapted to become one of MMA's best, brought out Silva's greatness and showed just how destructive the champion can be when properly motivated. After ceding his only round in UFC competition, Silva came back to pummel the American. The victory validated Silva as the best middleweight in MMA and affirmed his place atop most pound-for-pound rankings. However, therein lies the problem for The Spider, who has said he plans on retiring by the age of 35. Without challenges, will he get bored?
Against Irvin, the UFC asked Silva (23-4) on a month's notice to bulk up 20 pounds and fight at light heavyweight. He did so with the riches of a new six-fight contract spurring him. Facing Cote, Silva danced more than he fought, and took criticism for not dutifully destroying another challenger as expectations demanded. (Cote succumbed to a knee injury in the third round, upon which he rejoiced for having lasted that long.)
Whether it was an unsuccessful attempt to box Roy Jones Jr. or being open to any challenges brought forward by the UFC, Silva's '08 campaign should be remembered for one thing: his desire to fight -- a rarity in a sport in which most others are content to compete but once or twice a year.
Silva's manager, Ed Soares, joked of his fighter being on call for UFC president Dana White. "There's a bat-phone in Dana's office," he said. "Whenever he needs Anderson to fight, he knows where to reach him."
The next time Silva is called upon, which won't be this year unless White rings unexpectedly, could make nine-consecutive wins inside the Octagon, besting the record held by legend Royce Gracie and welterweight Jon Fitch. The man takes on anyone, anywhere, anytime -- and wins with class. What more can you ask in a Sportsman of the Year?