Having reviewed the UFC 97 main event again in its entirety this morning with my full wits about me, I can't say I'm surprised to be hearing criticism once again directed at Anderson Silva. When unthreatened in the octagon, he's a strange and baffling fighter.
But if we feel that Anderson was dancing his way through that fight and refusing to capitalize on opportunities, what business did anyone have putting him in there with someone who would let him dance through a fight?
Call it what you will, but it was effective. He outpointed Leites, refused to get himself into trouble where Leites obviously wanted the fight, and remained light years from any danger for the entire 25 minutes. I can't claim I enjoyed it myself. With the assistance of a generous quantity of alcohol, Anderson Silva actually scored his most decisive blow of the night with a knockout victory over me midway through the third. My friends didn't even bother waking me.
Most who are familiar with Leites would contend he did the best he could with the tools available to him. This being said, what the hell were those questionably-adequate tools doing in the ring with the UFC's supposed P4P untouchable?
I for one feel the UFC is misdiagnosing the issue as a promotion; they are at times extremely conservative matchmakers who like nothing more than a good old-fashioned predictable beating. It's profitable. It's exciting. It makes the fans cheer (and has MADE more than a few UFC careers if we're being honest). And they thought they had put exactly that in the card for one of their hottest markets last night (Montreal).
If you take nothing else away from watching Anderson Silva fight, know this: the man's not just a technician. He's an artist. There's no other way to characterize the creativity with which he problem-solves in the ring. And if we want to see him perform, we have to throw him a problem. He's driven to be as close to perfect in the ring as a competitor, as the rules permit and the situation allows.
A quick digression before everyone rips my head off for saying the above: why do you love MMA? I truly believe there's two schools of thought when it comes to this question: some people watch MMA because they enjoy pure violence, and MMA delivers it in very direct fashion. Others love it because it's the fighting sport with the most dauntingly broad, complicated and frankly unsolved-for rule set (to be fair, we mostly all fall somewhere in the middle). MMA is a dialogue of strikes and leverage, brute strength and clever gameplanning in which you can spend more time listing techniques that are allowed than are not. Nobody's truly figured out the unquestionably best approach to fighting in MMA (like in boxing, or wrestling, or countless other combat sports). MMA is refining down, but it's still all over the board.
The core of what everyone involved should be considering is whether we're in it for violent spectacle, or to see how far technically these athletes can take this as a sport. I'll give you one guess as to which I think Anderson Silva gives a shit about. And it doesn't involve boxers referring to his chosen career as "bar fighting."
I frequently use fighters as a way to describe other fighters. I'm gonna do it here. Lyoto Machida came up in the UFC doing exactly what people are mad at Anderson for doing now. Winning without getting touched. But... he's getting more exciting, right?
If anything, I feel there's a direct relationship with the fan-friendliness of both Lyoto and Anderson's performances and the level of threat they're presented with in the ring. Did Machida find David Heath and Sam Hoger to be more difficult opponents than Thiago Silva and Sokodjou? Of course not. He just didn't need to do anything more than bust them up from downtown like a couple of absolute amateurs. I'm glad he did. It would kill me to know he got laid out trying to be all Flying Arlovski so people would clap and Dana could use the F-word a couple more times in the press conference.
My gut feeling: as long as he's in the top rungs of the UFC, Lyoto will never be as uncommitted as in those two decision fights again. He won't have the luxury. He will be whooping ass to save his own life until the 205 div runs out of good fighters. And 205 is deep with ambitious, strong, smart fighters.
If Anderson appears to be getting more boring, it's because the best of the 185 lb. division is long behind him. He never kicked someone's ass faster than when Chris "charging troll" Leben showed him no respect whatsoever and declared it a kill-or-be-killed first round. I don't even care to see him rematch these people. He's cleaned 185 out aside from rematches and some rather uninteresting long-shots. It's time for us to start breaking the mold to find good fights for Silva, who's very likely counting down his last bouts as an MMA fighter.
I'm talking about Shogun. I'm talking about GSP. I'm talking about knocking out Keith Jardine and leaving him on the doorstep of THQ headquarters for publishing this crock of sh*t gameplay teaser. Anderson Silva has shown us that he deserves superfights, and the UFC needs to start putting some together while there's still time.
Embarassed of the show? Mad at Anderson, Dana? Show him. Put him in the ring with someone who will physically make him stop dancing instead of knitting your brow over the next useless, safe, bean-counter marketing ploy of a fight you'll make for him (very few people are buying that Anderson's legacy > Fedor's legacy argument anyway). Put Anderson Silva in harm's way. If he doesn't want the belt at 205, at least use him for some exciting outsourced gatekeeping (think Shogun + Wanderlei in Pride). If that runs dry, to hell with it! Give him a suitcase full of cash and throw him in the ring with Lesnar.185 can wait, the decision is basically a wasteland until Anderson retires regardless.
To sum (and now that I've gotten myself sufficiently riled up) I don't blame Anderson a bit for the fight he turned in last night. He's shown us every reason that we should be burning actual star-powered matchups to keep him interesting instead of having him lower his game to tearing chickens' heads off and throwing them into the crowd, and letting only one or two real names meet on a given fight card.
As a fan of the sport, I see this as the time where we can either prepare ourselves to be asking about "who hall-of-famer Anderson could have taken in his prime" for the next 5 years of the sport, or actually get the privilege of seeing Anderson in some real fights.