Spiders and Outsiders

By Jordan Breen Apr 20, 2009
Anderson Silva fascinates me. He fascinates me now more than ever.

Since his metamorphosis into the human weapon in 2005, Silva has been largely a counterstriker whose penchant for brutality is only coaxed out through fighters who attempt to draw first blood, such as Chris Leben, Rich Franklin, Travis Lutter and so on. At this point, Silva's reputation is almost cancerous. Fighters are too hesitant to engage him without the most meticulous planning of every single body movement, which results in long periods of nothingness in the cage.

So, if I have a logical explanation for Silva’s last two throne defenses, why do I have a sense of wonder about Silva that hadn't existed for the better part of a decade I’ve been watching him? It isn't just his sudden turn from beloved MMA hero to enigmatic public enemy. It is the fact that this unfortunate transformation has coincided with his Roy Jones Jr. obsession.

Never mind the fact that Silva is obsessed with boxing a fighter who, however faded, is still a serious pugilist -- a fact that can't be trivialized (ask celebrated striker K.J. Noons, who was handled in a recent six-round boxing match against anonymous competition). Silva's fixation on Jones is an anachronism: Jones is nearly seven years past his prime, not a great draw outside of his faithful Floridian fans and the boxing world generally wants the former pound-for-pound king to bow out rather than embarrass himself by fighting onward. Silva's angling for Jones is clearly not based on prestige, unless Silva is akin to Hiroo Onoda in his avoidance of boxing news over the last six years.

Given Silva's opportunity to feasibly wipe out every serious challenger at middleweight, and take on challenges at 205 pounds, I find his desire to fight Jones truly fascinating. I don't find it fascinating for the potential fight itself, where I would expect Silva to be simply and soundly outboxed, out of his depth in the vastly different waters of the sweet science. It engrosses me partially because I can't rationalize it: With prestige not part of the equation, what is it about RJJ that is so magnetic and enchanting for Silva? That question has led me to fixate on the parallels between the two fighters and has left me wondering if Silva sees Jones as more of an idol than an opponent.

The similarities between their careers are arresting. Since Silva's reemergence following the Chonan debacle, his lone loss was a maligned disqualification to Yushin Okami for an illegal upkick. During Jones' rapid climb to pound-for-pound preeminence, his only loss came at the hands of Montell Griffin, a bout in which he was disqualified for indiscreetly hitting Griffin after having knocked him down.

Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com

Is Okami next for Silva?
Their pound-for-pound runs have ultimately taken on similar faces. Both Silva and Jones were able to commingle fighting instincts and athletic giftedness with an unparalleled creativity in combat. Jones was able to do things that no other fighter had even dreamed of: his lunging hook to knock out Griffin in their rematch, the epic hands-behind-the-back counterhook KO of Glen Kelly and his anthropomorphic channeling of the gamecock that he used to sit James Toney on the canvas. Silva has yet to use cockfighting as an influence, but he brutally highlight-reeled Tony Fryklund with a standing back elbow, assimilating it into his arsenal after seeing it used in the film “Ong Bak.” Par for the course for a fighter who can throw every strike in the book with intent to kill while treating the cage as a discotheque.

And now, after the Cote and Leites bouts, Silva has taken another step in mirroring Jones. The charm of that creativity has now worn out. Because of Silva's stature as the sport's pound-for-pound best, just taking on tough challengers is no longer acceptable, just as Jones collecting world titles from Lou Del Valle, Reggie Johnson and Eric Harding was met with disappointment.

There is a fundamental difference in that Jones was the author of his own matchmaking. He avoided an obvious foil in Dariusz Michalczewski, whom he refused to travel to Germany to fight, but Silva is at the whims of Zuffa's matchmaking. What is most salient, however, is how both Silva and Jones chose to fight their outmatched opposition.

Virtually none of Silva's opponents have been able to hit him, not unlike the prime Jones. Fans and pundits alike expect truly great fighters to brutally dispatch opponents who have nothing for them, especially those great fighters with offensive acumen like Silva and Jones. Instead, Jones willfully opted to win lopsided unanimous decisions by 12- to 14-point scorecard margins, doing just enough to embarrass his opposition, throwing 40-some punches a round against dead-to-rites opponents. Silva, likewise, has succeeded only in making Cote and Leites inert, leg kicking and foot punching, while ultimately doing more damage to his own reputation than his foes’.

And, much like a prime Jones, Silva seems to care very little for the contempt that his last two performances have engendered. Their motivations may differ -- there was always discussion about Jones' fear for his own mortality, having seen fellow boxers die in the ring, a reality that doesn't present itself as vividly to Silva -- but Silva's insistence that “people don't get what happens in here” echoes Jones' refrains of the past.

Because both men are owners of vibrant, colorful personalities, it seemed natural that people expected them to be preoccupied with entertainment and accommodation. Instead, Jones was an antagonist of the media, while Silva meets his criticism with self-assured indifference.

All these qualities underscore promotional, financial realities. Jones, while the most brilliant boxer of his generation, struggled to become bankable in the era of lucrative stars like Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and a waning Mike Tyson. He had to headline events in nontraditional sites like Mississippi, Louisiana and Indiana due to meager drawing power. When Jones finally graduated from HBO telecasts to pay-per-view, results were weak, such as the 125,000 buys his bout with Eric Harding did.

Naturally, this is the reality Silva now faces, fighting in cities like Cincinnati, Chicago and Montreal, where Zuffa looks to cash in on the city's hunger for MMA rather than Silva’s starpower. Not surprisingly, Silva has been only mediocre on pay-per-view, only drawing reported buyrates between 300-350,000 -- virtually the basement for non-European UFC pay-per-views.

I am not sure what this all means, apart from being an intriguing case study. Jones was able to assuage criticism by eventually moving to heavyweight to take a title belt from much-maligned champion John Ruiz, becoming a four-division titlist. I do think that challenges at 205 pounds would motivate Silva and fans alike, though I'm not sure he has a ready-made foil quite like Ruiz. Georges St. Pierre would provide an epic bout for MMA, but unlike Ruiz, nobody wants to see St. Pierre disappear.

However, regardless of whom Silva's next opponent turns out to be, his bizarre obsession with fighting Jones won't diminish. That insistence amidst such critical turbulence is fascinating. For me, Silva's attachment to Jones recalls a passage from Albert Camus' “L'Etranger.” The intelligent, honest and misanthropic protagonist Meursault awaits his execution, and suddenly realizes that his only true companion is the world's indifference toward humanity.

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world,” he says. “Finding it so much like myself -- so like a brother, really -- I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again.”

For Meursault, finding the only other essence that understands him brings him peace. I can only wonder if Anderson Silva somehow sees his own completeness in Roy Jones Jr., however bizarre and farcical it may be.
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