From the second he set foot inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Anderson Silva was a game-changer; and those unfamiliar with his exploits soon became aware of them.
Silva had already captured titles in Shooto and Cage Rage and beaten the likes of Roan Carneiro, Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Lee Murray and Jeremy Horn by the time he reached the Octagon at the age of 31 in June 2006. He was immediately hailed as a “different kind of striker” by UFC analyst Joe Rogan, and those words proved prophetic if not understated. Silva went on to capture the middleweight championship in his second UFC appearance and enjoyed a historic stay atop the 185-pound weight class. He has banked 13 post-fight performance bonuses and set countless records, including those for most consecutive victories (16), most title defenses (10), most knockdowns landed (18) and longest title reign (2,457 days). Silva remains active -- he will meet Derek Brunson in the UFC 208 co-main event on Feb. 11 -- as he approaches his 42nd birthday, even though Father Time has grown less and less kind to him.
In a remarkable career overflowing with defining moments, here are five that stand out:
1. Destructive Debut
“The Spider” scurried into the Octagon for the first time on June 28, 2006, and nothing was ever the same. He had won 18 of his first 22 pro bouts while competing in organizations like Shooto, Cage Rage and Pride Fighting Championships, so he was far from a typical UFC rookie. Still, no one could have foreseen the historic tear upon which he was about to embark. He was paired with former World Extreme Cagefighting champion Chris Leben in the UFC Fight Night 5 headliner at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where less than 1,000 fans were in attendance. Leben spewed plenty of pre-fight rhetoric, making it clear he intended to remain unbeaten under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner at the Brazilian’s expense. When they finally locked horns, it became vividly and violently clear that “The Crippler” had no business being in the cage with Silva. The fight lasted a mere 49 seconds. Silva fired two jabs that landed flush, dumped “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 semifinalist to the mat and tried to finish it on the floor. Once Leben returned to his feet, Silva connected with a concussive knee to the head that sent the southpaw crashing to the canvas and prompted referee John McCarthy to intervene on his behalf. In less than a minute, Silva had emerged as the No. 1 contender for the UFC middleweight title.
2. A Punishing Web He Weaves
Rich Franklin had the middleweight championship, owned a 22-1 record and had never lost at 185 pounds when he met Silva in the UFC 64 main event on Oct. 14, 2006 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Only a handful of MMA insiders saw the juggernaut that was headed his way. Silva was still an unknown commodity for casual fans, but those who had followed his career were well aware of the scorched-earth weaponry he possessed in his wiry frame. “The Spider” was spectacular, established his dominance early and picked apart Franklin with violent precision. Once they clinched two minutes in, Silva applied his vice-like collar tie and raked the Cincinnati native with repeated knees to the body. Franklin’s ribs went from bright pink to deep red, as he became hopelessly entangled in the Brazilian’s destructive muay Thai web. Silva continued to pepper the body, until he fired one of his knees upstairs and crushed Franklin’s nose. The defending champion’s legs buckled, as he stumbled backward, got sucked into the clinch again and absorbed another knee to the face. Franklin was done 2:59 into Round 1, and Silva had touched off a run of divisional dominance that had never before been seen in the UFC.
3. Hail Mary Geometry
The greatest middleweight champion of all-time pulled off the greatest come-from-behind victory of his career in the UFC 117 main event on Aug. 7, 2010 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Chael Sonnen spent months baiting Silva with insulting and hyperbolic trash talk, vowing to swing sledgehammers and expose “The Spider” as a fraud. He seemed to be spot on with his assessment for the better part of 20 minutes, as he took down Silva with ease and assaulted him with ground-and-pound. Sonnen effectively neutralized the Brazilian’s surgical striking skills and cruised to a four-rounds-to-none lead: According to FightMetric data, the Milwaukie, Oregon, native had outlanded Silva 228-54 in total strikes and executed three takedowns by the time Round 5 arrived. Once there, however, Sonnen wandered too low into the champion’s guard, became complacent and found himself entangled in a triangle choke; and though he fought through Silva’s initial bid, he had no way to defend the armbar that followed. Referee Josh Rosenthal accepted Sonnen’s tapout 3:10 into the fifth round, and with that, the legend of “The Spider” had grown yet again.
4. Phenomenal Kick
When Silva was at the height of his power, there was not a better striker in mixed martial arts. No one knows that any better than Vitor Belfort. Though he was responsible for many jaw-dropping knockouts -- his upward elbow on Tony Fryklund comes to mind -- during his career, the finish “The Spider” authored against Belfort in the UFC 126 headliner on Feb. 5, 2011 stands out among the rest. Belfort had twice been stopped on strikes by Randy Couture, but he had never actually been knocked out -- until he faced the middleweight champion before 10,893 fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. “The Phenom” tried to put his lethal hands to use, but Silva’s defense was sublime and limited him to an occasional glancing blow. A front kick to the face, thrown with blinding speed, crushing power and laser-guided accuracy, marked the beginning of the end for Belfort. He folded where he stood, as if cut down by a sniper’s bullet, and ate a few follow-up punches before the stoppage was called 3:25 into Round 1.
5. Throne Relinquished
After six years, eight months and 22 days, Silva finally relinquished his hold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight throne. Chris Weidman knocked out a clowning Silva with a left hook and follow-up ground strikes in the UFC 162 main event on July 6, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The unbeaten Weidman brought the match to a shocking and decisive close 78 seconds into Round 2, handing “The Spider” his first legitimate defeat since December 2004 and snapping a string of 17 consecutive victories. Weidman took down the longtime champion in the first round, softened him with ground-and-pound and aggressively fished for two leg locks, first a kneebar and then a heel hook. Once Silva returned to his feet, he started the uncomfortable process of toying with his challenger in a scene that has grown familiar to mixed martial arts observers. However, his taunting caught up to him early in the second round, where Weidman floored and finished him at the feet of referee Herb Dean. Once seemingly invincible, Silva has not won a fight since.