Twenty-seven seconds is all it took for the hardened and powerful Chris Leben to end Wanderlei Silva's evening on July 2nd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier this year. Mere seconds before Leben unleashed a flurry of left-handed uppercuts that crumpled the former Pride champion, Silva leapt forward, firing off a salvo of violence as if he were raising his sword and foolishly charging into the fray without regards to his own safety. One can imagine at that very moment that many of us grinned and thought to ourselves, "Classic!", while visibly disapproving, yet secretly salivating over the ensuing chaos that was about to unfold.
Unfortunately, we've become accustomed to seeing Silva fail miserably in his attempts to ressurect the vintage brand of violence that helped him rise to fame. UFC 132 was no different. Silva's looping hooks and complete ignorance to the bullseye on his chin allowed Leben to grab hold and deliver a barrage of crushing shots quickly. For the fourth time in eight appearances, Silva awoke to a flashlight in his eyes and a hovering group of physicians. Not quite the picture Wanderlei hoped to paint for himself as he entered the latter stages of his career.
As we head to San Jose, California this coming weekend for UFC 139, the threat of a knockout is an overwhelming presence in any discussion revolving around his bout with Strikeforce veteran Cung Le. The odds, once stacked in his favor indefinitely no matter who stood in front of him, have shifted toward most of his opponents in recent memory. Even a 39-year-old Sanshou expert turned movie star with less than ten MMA fights under his belt is getting the benefit of the doubt at the books.
The reality of Silva's career at this juncture is quite clear. It really isn't about winning per se. What can Silva realistically expect if he beats Cung Le on Saturday night? Perhaps the UFC throws him a bone, or maybe they use his legacy to prop up one of their rising stars. In any scenario we can think up in our heads, it's obvious that relevancy is out of reach unless it pertains to someone else's career. Money and ensuring he puts on a show is Silva's aim now. "You can keep going to the ballpark and keep gettin' paid to do it.", a famous line from the movie Bull Durham perfectly describes the setting.
Some fans may disagree with that assessment. All Wanderlei needs to do is evolve, right? How many older fighters have actually evolved above the style of fighting that brought them to where they are today? Very few. Many have evolved in training, then throw those learned skills out the window at the first sign of leather. Classic Wanderlei.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks. We hear that saying often in reference to our parents or grandparents, and it fits into the context of various situations in life. In fighting, Wanderlei Silva is a prime example. Strangely, I'm not angered by his continued stubbornness. Call it what you want. I'd go with selfish, but the idea of Wanderlei Silva ending a career as it began is satisfying. The magnificent ruin of his opponent, reminiscent of his compilation of highlight reel knockouts during his Pride reign, would be icing on the cake of a career that truly peaked my interest in the sport during my more youthful days. Is Cung Le the man to provide that glorious snapshot to the scrapbook of Silva's legendary career? We'll find out on Saturday night at UFC 139 in San Jose.