Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is often considered “the greatest mixed martial artist of all time” … an odd distinction when you consider that time is a continuous, endless assembly line of the next big things.
Like this guy.
Perhaps it’s fairer to call Silva the best for a while, as ‘The Spider’ has reigned unchallenged for over six years, racking up 16 straight wins with an impressive 14 finishes. His level of competition hasn’t aged very well, but you can’t punish an athlete for the limits of his time.
As James Irvin explained to me in 2008, he only marked Silva’s fight because no one else would take him.
We can, however, take a critical look at what makes a legacy stand the test of time. Silva was often criticized in his heyday for fighting like a ‘moron’ as the promotion tried to find its legs in international waters.
But UFC president Dana White could never stay mad at the Brazilian for very long, simply because Silva had the balls to jump divisions when the promotion needed a bailout. He was the best definition of “pound for pound” because the weight categories were inconsequential.
Just ask this victim.
I often wonder how Silva would have been viewed if he had taken the advice of his family (as well as his nemesis Jon Jones) and stopped him after breaking his leg against Chris Weidman. Let’s face it, this was nothing more than a train wreck in the years that followed.
It wasn’t just the failed drug tests (or his silly excuses). Silva is not the first (and certainly will not be the last) top athlete to seek out performance enhancing drugs. Fighters who own it and go on a quick apology tour often overtake so far that most fans don’t even remember what happened.
Silva chose to send us a kiss and blame her lawyer.
“Just to end this whole doping thing: I went really quickly from a guy who takes steroids to a guy who doesn’t take anything,” Silva said previously. “I don’t use steroids, I have no doping problem. It does not affect my heritage or my career in any way. “
I think what hurt “The Spider” more than anything, at least in terms of legacy, is his inability to stop competing. The promotion thankfully forces him to retire after battling Uriah Hall at this weekend’s UFC Vegas 12 main event in Las Vegas, but Silva – who turns 46 in April – promises to compete elsewhere.
Since devastating Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153 in Brazil – the only place you’re allowed to take pain relievers in competition – Silva has failed two drug tests and lost six fights. The same fighter who was a middleweight champion and No.1 pound-for-pound is unable to break through the Top 15 at 185 pounds.
This does not negate his reign of terror from 2006 to 2012, but it has undoubtedly taken hold in our collective cortex. So which part best defines his legacy… the killer who treated middleweights like teenage counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, or the broken down cheat who couldn’t win a fight?
Maybe both, or maybe somewhere in the middle.
MMA is a complicated profession and in the grand scheme of things, so new to the world of sport that even knee-deep fighters in muddy trenches are still figuring out how to navigate the ever-changing battlefield.
And let’s face it, UFC fans have been spoiled rotten.
I was fortunate enough to be a prominent part of the MMA blogosphere during Silva’s extraordinary run and I can tell you by witnessing it firsthand, “The Spider” – like Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock before him. – is responsible for driving this industry forward when it needed someone to come out and push.
He was, literally, “the man of the year”.
Yes, Silva’s legacy is complicated and somewhat messy, but not at the expense of the UFC’s progress. No carts through the windows of the buses, no filmed street brawls, no hit-and-run accidents and no domestic violence charges.
The worst you can say about Silva is that he failed two drug tests and got too old to stay competitive. I can promise you that there are fighters from the past and present who would take the “Thug Nasty” challenge just to be mentioned in the same breath as “The Spider”.
Silva is a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and has to be considered one of the greatest of all time no matter what happens against Hall this weekend in “Sin City”, although I think we can all agree that canceling “Prime Time” would definitely speed up the process.