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That night, as I drove back to my home in the outer edges of Las Vegas, I started thinking about Silva and all that he’d accomplished before his first loss to Weidman—which I’d considered a fluke—and how I wasn’t certain he’d ever fight again. If he did somehow come back from such an awful injury, he would probably never be the same as before. And I was OK with him walking away, because I didn’t want to see Silva go down the same path other aging fighters follow. I didn’t want him to stick around the sport for a paycheck. After all he’d accomplished, what else was left?
Then came UFC 234, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship tried to use Silva as a stepping stone for its newest hot prospect, Israel Adesanya. This is the way of things in this sport; the young consume the old. And it was obvious that this matchup was made for Adesanya to put a violent end to Silva’s illustrious career and, in doing so, vault himself into the pantheon of middleweight title contenders.
Silva had other ideas.
Sure, Adesanya beat Silva in the main event of UFC 234 via unanimous decision, capping off a night of ho-hum action between fighters of questionable name value.
You might be thinking, Wasn’t there supposed to be a middleweight title fight between Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum? And wasn’t that the main event? And you’d be right, because up until, oh, two hours before the event started, that fight still was the main event.
But then the UFC’s insistence on booking thin pay-per-view cards backfired on them spectacularly once again when a hernia forced Whittaker to withdraw from the card and undergo surgery. All of which left Silva vs. Adesanya—the fight most fans considered the real main event, anyway—as the only drawing card for the night, and also perhaps the only fight with recognizable names.
But it was not the shellacking many expected, and it wasn’t what the UFC likely wanted. It turned into something much better. If Silva did not quite turn back the clock to his championship-level days, he at least showed a glimpse of what used to make him the world’s best and most thrilling fighter. The creativity. The speed and reflexes, albeit slightly dialed back. The arrogance. It was all there.
Adesanya showed why he’s so hyped as well. The 29-year-old is a stunning combination of otherworldly technique, incredible athleticism and the perfect fighting frame. He’s also young and just entering his prime, and that proved to be too much of an advantage for Silva to really threaten to win the fight.
He reminds many of a younger Silva, which is why I guess it made some sense to match this new Anderson Silva against the old Anderson Silva. The whole idea was uncomfortable if you ask me, but this is the fight business.
And if there is one thing we know about this industry, it’s that it is always capable of doing questionable things when there’s money (or the potential for money) involved. But another thing about it is this: It has the ability to surprise you, often in bad ways, but every once in a while, in ways that are good.
Whittaker pulling out of a sublime title matchup mere hours before it’s supposed to happen? That’s bad.
Anderson Silva going back to being Anderson Silva again after a long decline?
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After the fight, Silva told UFC commentator Jon Anik that he’d maybe like to fight one more time in his hometown of Curitiba, where the UFC will have an event in May. But with Silva, you never know what will happen. He’s maddening in his ability to give absolutely no concrete answers when he wants to be coy, and for all we know, we might be talking about a Silva fight in 2022. He’s 43 years old, but Randy Couture won a heavyweight championship when he was 43 and still fought another four years after that. And the version of Silva we saw against Adesanya on Saturday night? That guy would smoke a lot of good UFC middleweights.
Or maybe he’ll retire and ride off into the Hall of Fame and spend the rest of his life training others who grew up watching and wanting to be just like Anderson Silva. As Adesanya said after the win on the pay-per-view broadcast, Silva is the Michael Jordan of mixed martial arts. He will continue to influence the next generation.
And despite many fans feeling like he should have retired before taking the Adesanya fight, it’s clear that the Jordan of MMA can still teach all of us a thing or two.