For years it's been a question that has caused millions of arguments on message boards all over the world. Who is the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts? Was it the great Rickson Gracie, finishing all challengers and running a submission train on a hundred Japanese judoka and jiu jitsu aces in a single day? Perhaps it was Frank Shamrock, the sport's first believer in exercise science and the UFC's undefeated champion at 205 pounds. Some might put the crown on Fedor Emelianenko, who ruled the heavyweight division for much of the last decade.
Those people would all all be wrong.
Anderson Silva is an athlete beyond compare. His record inside the UFC's Octagon is umatched in the promotion's history. He's left champion after champion in his wake. He's beaten seven legitimate world champions in his eleven years as a pro and you can count the dangerous moments he's faced on your fingers and your toes. His win against former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort was typical of his reign. Silva danced around, did a complicated hand jive, gave Belfort just a smidgen of confidence by abosrbing a few blows, and then he struck.
A simple front kick, usually the equivalent of a jab, a mere distraction, was deadly when thrown by the great Anderson Silva. Belfort expected the kick to go to the body. But in the kind of sleight of hand only the best fighters possess, Silva was able to, at the last conceivable moment, send the kick hurtling upstairs. Belfort was knocked silly and it was all over.
What seperates Silva from his contemporaries is his ability to finish a fight decisively. With four ounce gloves and heavy hands, a fighter like Belfort can end your night if you give him enough opportunities. Silva refused to allow that to happen. It almost never does. Of his 32 professional fights, 75 percent have been called off before the final bell. Only twice in the Octagon has he gone the distance.
Yet, despite his strong record as a submission and knockout machine, it is the two decision wins that have lingered in fans' collective memories. Fights with Thales Leites and Demian Maia were too awful, too bizarre to be forgiven. Even after an unforgettable come from behind win over Chael Sonnen last August, Silva was still booed by the crowd this weekend in Las Vegas. There were audible chants of "Belfort, Belfort" ringing throughout the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Perhaps it is his destiny to be respected but never loved. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Love him or hate him, we are all witnessing greatness every time he fights. At 35, his career is on it's final act. It's important we enjoy him every chance we get. There will never be another to compare.
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