Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.You love mixed martial arts. No, you hate mixed martial arts. It's the hottest, rawest, awesomest sport going, a video game come to life, the main cause of boxing's death spiral. No, it's legalized assault and battery, an affront to civilization, the Church of the Lowest Common Denominator. As mixed martial arts -- and the UFC in particular -- continue to grow, it also continues to polarize. And both sides are, of course, entitled to their opinion.
But maybe we can at least find common ground here and agree that, in 2009 A.D., mixed martial arts (MMA) is now firmly part of the sports firmament, not some fad, like the XFL or American Gladiators that will be mocked on a future episode of South Park. State after state continues to sanction MMA fighting. All the usual metrics -- sponsorships, television footprint, attendance -- indicate still more growth to come. As all the karate dojos bearing signs "We offer MMA training" suggest, it's even gaining acceptance as a participation sport.
Two dudes fighting in a steel cage will always be a tough sell in some precincts. But if you want to point to what's right and legitimate about MMA, you could start by entering Anderson Silva into evidence. One look at Silva, and it's clear he's an athlete as well-proportioned and well-conditioned as any NFL defensive back or NBA two-guard. He's agile. He's quick. He has the flexibility of a gymnast.
Plus, he can fight. Man, can he fight. Not brawl. But fight, using his skills and techniques and strategy to submit all manner of opponent. Though he comes from Brazil, the land of jiu-jitsu, Silva might be at his best standing up, delivering punches as accurate as they are powerful. His kickboxing skills are exceptional. Silva has black belt in jiu-jitsu, and his ground skills are such that he's recently beaten Dan Henderson, a former U.S. Olympic wrestler.
In 2009, Silva defeated two opponents. In other words, business as usual. He hasn't been beaten in nearly six years and he holds a 10-0 record in the UFC. As a middleweight, Silva, 34, has done what all the great ones do and simply exhausted the competition. As such, he fights as light heavyweight as well.
With his halting English and squeaky voice -- "You keep expecting him to talk about his brothers Tito and Jermaine," UFC president Dana White once quipped -- Silva creates a marketing challenge for an organization trying to mint stars. He's not the guy to star on a cable reality show or write a provocative book. He's not tweeting or promoting himself on YouTube. He'll leave to preening and WWE-theatrics to others, say, Brock Lesnar, the reigning heavyweight champion.
Instead, Anderson simply wins. And helps legitimize an entire sport in the process.Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.