Anderson Silva turns 39 in April. It is not a secret to anyone that he is no longer young. In an interview last year about potential superfights with GSP or Jon Jones, "The Spider" was frank.
“I’m old, guys. I’m getting old. I’m nearly there," he said. "I’ve only got another five years. I think [GSP] would be a great challenge for me. I prefer him over Jon Jones. He’s smaller. It’ll be a little bit easier. I’ll be hit less.”
In a column for BT Sports, the UFC's broadcast partner in the UK, the UG's Ralph Welch asks if time is at long last running out for Anderson Silva?
When the opening bell sounded, Silva entered a different dimension. A dimension where time was broken down not into hours and minutes, but a matter of milliseconds. Hands by the waist and chin pouted forward, he defied the logic of conventional coaching manuals. It mattered little. Silva could sense the merest flicker of movement: the twist of a shoulder to denote a forthcoming right cross or the rotation of a hip to signpost a leg kick. His heightened senses gave him an advantage that made him untouchable.
Little wonder then that defeat in his next middleweight title fight against the precocious Chris Weidman would provoke such disbelief. We saw all the traits of old. Silva taunted the younger man, treating his attacks with derision. Until the unthinkable happened. The sight of the great man prone on the canvas was greeted with a momentary silence by the crowd. No one could be certain that this wasn’t another of the magician’s famous illusions. It was only when the referee’s hands waved that we could be sure of what we were seeing.
The response to Silva’s earth-shattering defeat was too simplistic. The consensus was that the Brazilian had beaten himself. He’d taken the challenger too lightly. Some of this sport’s most important voices decried Silva for “clowning” his way to defeat.
No one wanted to face the uncomfortable truth. Maybe, just maybe, Anderson Silva got old.
Who can blame them? No one wants to see their heroes fall. And for so long the rhetoric of Anderson Silva had matched the reality. But that same rhetoric had been exposed before our eyes. It wasn’t his tactics that had failed him – they were the same that had disposed of Maia, Leites, Bonnar and all the other victims - it was his body. His reflexes and punch resistance, those superpowers that made him immortal for so long, had finally faltered.
He was human after all.
It was a truth that the man himself seemed to acknowledge during the post-fight press conference. Whilst his cornermen shed tears of disbelief, there was no sign of acrimony from the fallen champion. Shorn of the colossal weight of expectation, there was a genuine sense of relief. Despite UFC President Dana White’s insistence to the contrary, Silva showed precious little interest in a rematch.
So what prompted the change of mind? The same motivation that brings them all back. The seduction of one more big payday. One last chance to earn that fabled “Anderson Silva money”. It was why Dana White spoke with such confidence. He knows what all promoters know. The lure of the dollar is always there, convincing a man whose heart lies elsewhere to turn around and make one last run.
Chris Weidman knows this too. He will enter the cage younger, stronger and more determined than his foe. He is the sport’s bright future, driven by a deep-rooted desire to create his own legacy. It is a hunger that Silva cannot possibly match.
Naturally, we’ve heard the hyperbole that so often accompanies the return of a defeated champion: rumours abound of re-focused, re-energised Silva hell-bent on revenge. Music to the ears of the men in suits, but a tired old tune to those who know the rhythm of the fight game.
Of course, anything can happen. MMA is characterized by its perennial unpredictability. Silva could produce another of those exquisite moments of excellence that have defined his career. But history tells us that the battle with time is one that no fighter ever wins. Men like Royce Gracie, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell have waged brave, bloody war with the Old Father and lost in brutal fashion.
A win over Weidman on December 28 would represent victory for the past over the future. A fistic fairytale. Yet in a sport where destinies are shaped by the swing of a four-ounce glove, fairytales are few and far between. Anderson Silva has written his own chapter in the remarkable history of mixed martial arts. I fear that story may soon reach the only possible conclusion.
Time will tell. It always does.
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