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For fans who yearned for the Anderson Silva of yesterday, it was devastating to watch “The Spider” struggle with his own mortality before dropping a decision to Michael Bisping.
Gone was the supreme confidence which allowed Silva to strike at will and toy with his opponents. Instead, we saw a fighter trying to figure out exactly how old he was throughout the entire bout. It was new territory for the Brazilian, who never played by MMA rules and did things that no trainer would allow his pupil to do in a fight. For a man who was used to relying on his catlike reflexes and pinpoint accuracy to make opponents pay, this was foreign country. Superman had become a mere mortal, but he still attempted to be Superman because it was the only thing he knew. He left his hands at his side in an attempt to bait the Brit into making a mistake.
However, Bisping knew that his opponent was no longer a mutant with superpowers. Because Silva’s chin was so rarely touched during his UFC career, it wasn’t used to the feeling of a fist trying to travel through his face. Bisping knew this and dropped Silva in the second round of their Feb. 27 encounter. It was at that moment when Silva probably realized that things will never be the same again. Because he never focused heavily on the fundamentals of fighting, Silva didn’t really understand the concept of taking a punch, blocking or anything else, really.
Sure, the flashes of brilliance were still there and arrived in the form of a flying knee that arguably should have ended the fight. (Although that was just as much Bisping’s fault for being concerned with his dislodged mouthpiece.) That third round nearly allowed Silva to hide his deficiencies via knockout. Everybody would have forgotten how normal he looked and Silva could survive another day. It wasn’t meant to be, as Silva spent the final two rounds trying to capture something which no longer existed.
He ran out of time, and if he allows himself, he’ll continue the futile chase of yesterday’s brilliance only to realize that it is long gone. In the process, he’ll only end up hurting himself.
If this sounds familiar to boxing fans, it’s because Silva’s career parallels that of Roy Jones Jr.
Despite their different disciplines, Silva and Jones share a remarkable number of traits. In their respective primes, both relied primarily on instincts and reflexes to perform with surreal athleticism. They broke every rule in the book when it came to fighting a disciplined match, and they often toyed with their opponents by leaving their hands down. Their dominance in their crafts seemed to last forever, until one day they woke up and became old. Not ancient, but just old enough where they lost those hair-trigger reflexes which helped them avoid punishment and deliver counters that came seemingly out of nowhere. But how do you tell Superman that he’s no longer super? How do you tell him that he’s just a man?
Unfortunately, you don’t. The people with the best chance to make these fighters realize that they are no longer the same athletes who rose to prominence are the ones attempting to punch holes in their faces.
Jones’ plunge would come at the hands of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson by way of savage knockouts in 2004. Jones is still trying to recover the magic that left the bottle over a decade ago, and all he’s done is ruin his legacy with each fight that finds him unconscious on the canvas.
Silva suffered a similar fate when Chris Weidman knocked him out in 2013. The Spider looked mortal in the rematch, and the irony of Superman’s bones being fragile came to life when a broken leg ended his night. His return bout against Nick Diaz showcased more of the same. Fortunately, Diaz didn’t possess the debilitating power to put Silva down, but it was evident that Silva was no longer the same.
Then came the Bisping fight. It’s almost poetic that Silva lost a fight which many felt he could have won if only he stepped on the gas. Silva realized that he was scared of getting hurt. It’s quite different knowing that your opponent can’t hit you than it is hoping that your opponent won’t hit you. Watching Silva grapple with his own humanity inside of those 25 minutes was like witnessing the old man in the nightclub who refuses to grow up. He might land a female companion or two, but he’s no longer the ladykiller who owned the night. But try to tell him and his balding head that it’s over; he’ll refuse to believe you.
That’s what Roy Jones Jr. continues to do. Hopefully, Silva realizes that he’s accomplished all that he ever will in MMA. It’s over. As long as he accepts it, he’ll be a better man who will preserve his health. Or, he can continue to trot out to the cage and erase the memory of the greatest MMA fighter who ever lived.
Andreas Hale is a content producer for Jay Z’s LifeandTimes.com and editor-in-chief of PremierWuzHere.com, as well as a frequent Sherdog.com columnist. Check out his archive here.