Anderson Silva is a genius.
It's not an entirely novel statement these days. Silva earned that status in his second fight with Rich Franklin, specifically at the moment when he ducked and dodged a punch-kick combo from the Ohioan with ease. He beat Franklin mentally long before the final sequence, the four-limbed barrage that mirrored the end of their first encounter.
He cemented the notion four months later in Columbus. I sat in attendance that night as Silva fought Dan Henderson in a unification of the UFC middleweight and Pride welterweight titles. After dropping the first round, Silva returned to his corner relaxed, unconcerned that he had all but gifted Henderson the first five minutes.
Sometime in the first two minutes of that second round, Silva jockeyed his hands. It's a tell. Like Bald Bull rolling his gloves or Piston Honda raising his eyebrows, Silva's hand game is his acknowledgement that he has you figured out. He has your timing down. He has your reactions down. You better figure something out because it's only a matter of time.
Henderson didn't make it out of the round.
Yushin Okami had his moment in the first round. Or, rather, Silva let him believe he had his moment. Okami was able to play his game, the clinch, for something in the neighborhood of two minutes. He even had Silva pressed up against the fence. Herb Dean, unlike referees in the majority of the undercard bouts, took a laissez-faire approach, affording champ and challenger to work out their differences on their own.
Okami couldn't make anything of the offering. Silva stifled his attempts at gaining dominant position. He shrugged off Okami's level change into a single-leg takedown. And just like that, he escaped and returned to distance.
Silva turned on beast mode quickly into the second round. He kept Okami at bay with jabs and movement. The challenger's window was closing fast.
Then Silva put his hands down. Silva took on the form of Roy Jones Jr., one of his heroes. He allowed Okami to throw unabated at his head. The jab that knocked Okami down came from his waist.
Silva probably could have finished there. There are few things as mentally damaging as your opponent clowning you with a jab with his hands firm at the waist. He allowed Okami back to his feet. He allowed Okami to stalk him backwards, hands still at his sides, the aura of Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali oozing from his posture, from his expression.
The counter right stole whatever was left of Okami's will to fight. He crumpled to that mat, immediately resorting to base instinct -- survival via fetal position. Silva established dominant position. The ensuing carnage was patient and powerful and knowing.
On an event as emotionally charged as this one -- the UFC's return to Brazil after thirteen years, Nogueira's redemption in his first fight home, Thiago's thunderous ovation, Luiz Cane's brutal disappointment, it was Silva's brilliance that moved me the most.
I appreciate Georges St. Pierre's overwhelming dominance of peers. I appreciated Fedor Emelianenko's inexplicable run against variance and his stoic ultraviolence. But neither of those men move me the way Silva is able to. Silva, at his most brilliant, moves me the way the Van Gogh's Self-Portrait moves me. Or the way Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises moves me.
Inside the cage, Anderson Silva is omniscient. His omniscience breeds his creativity. He is an artist who creates beauty out of violence.
- Mauricio Rua returned with a dominating performance over Forrest Griffin, though he did not assuage all my fears. "Shogun" beat Griffin to the punch throughout the fight's duration, but his movement looked labored when it was there at all. His legs are an issue. A diminished "Shogun" is still a dangerous "Shogun," but the man who ran through Pride's gauntlet in 2005 is no longer there.
- Speaking of no longer there, Forrest Griffin looked absolutely flummoxed tonight. He seemed to constantly second guess himself with his strikes. When he did throw, he looked awkward, continuously wrapping himself up and fulfilling his own prophecy of regressing as a fighter. Griffin was never as talented a fighter as his wins over an out-of shape Quinton Jackson and an injured "Shogun" Rua would have indicated. He combined a tireless work effort with a never-say-die attitude and a large, gangly frame, added a bit of good timing, and put together a career most men would gladly accept. Hey may have permanently left "the mix," but cheers to him for making the most of his physical gifts and fortune of opportunity.
- And then there was Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Weighing in ten pounds over his optimal fighting weight, I gave "Minotauro" little chance of defeating the younger, faster, stronger Brendan Schaub. But right from the start, Nogueira surprised me with his (relative) quickness, his aggression, and his head movement. He took a hard combo two minutes into the fight that I thought was the beginning of the end, but his legendary chin endured. Schaub turned sloppy, Nogueira capitalized with combination punching, and we had our second "moment" in as many months.
- Fairly or not, Brendan Schaub will have to answer questions about his chin for the rest of his career.
- Ross Pearson, even in defeat, impressed me as much as anyone on this card. Pearson employed a beautiful gameplan, pressuring Edson Barboza for fifteen minutes, stifling the Brazilian's ability to throw leg kicks and confusing him with aggression. His boxing was crisp; his head movement was fluid. Pearson dropped the split decision, but that sort of performance is a great thing to see. And we shouldn't ignore Barboza either. He composed himself well after a first round where he looked overwhelmed at times.
- Luiz Cane fell in love with his left cross, and Stanislav Nedkov made him pay the price for it. Cane reacted as oddly as I've seen from a hurt fighter, turning his back and jumping up and then toward and off the fence before ultimately eating the punches the put him away.
- While Ross Pearson lost despite his well-executed gameplan, Thiago Tavares won because of it. Tavares wasted little time putting Spencer Fisher on the mat, and refusing to let him up. Fisher looked helpless as Tavares pressed him up against the fence, unable to improve his position. After sustained punishment, Fisher's heart dropped, and that was that.
- Rousimar Palhares found a new way to draw controversy. "Toquinho" dropped Dan Miller with a head kick, and followed up with strikes. He decided Miller had seen enough, pulled himself off, and jumped on top of the fence in celebration. The only problem? Referee Herb Dean had yet to call the fight. I believe Palhares heard Dean communicate to Miller that he was "gonna stop it," but Dean had yet to enter a position to physically insert himself into the proceedings. When the action restarted, Miller dropped Palhares with a punch, and almost stamping the fight with the ultimate ending. Palhares hung on, however, put in a dominating second period, and coasted through the third to take the decision.
- Tonight's officiating looked like it might rob us of an exciting night. Throughout the Facebook prelims, referees Marc Goddard and Mario Yamasaki stood up fights for seemingly little reason other than they wanted to see more kickboxing. Yamasaki restarted a preliminary bout between Yuri Alcantara and Felipe Arantes four times in fifteen minutes. And while Herb Dean escaped those shenanigans, he missed two infractions from Rousimar Palhares that warranted serious consideration for point deductions -- a late left hand after the horn in round one and repeated fence-grabbing in round two.
- A recap of this event wouldn't be complete without acknowledging the crowd down in Rio. This crowd was hot from the opening fight between Ian Loveland and Yves Jabouin all the way through Anderson Silva's dissection of Yushin Okami. They chanted. They stomped. They cheered. They even politely clapped Stanislav Nedkov finishing Luiz Cane. They lived up to the hype, and put all other fight crowds on notice.
FIGHTER OF THE NIGHT
Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Plenty of deserving candidates, but Anderson Silva put in a star-making performance tonight. It's just unfortunate that as his fight career is likely winding down (though we've seen little evidence to suggest it). Like most artists, however, Silva's genius won't be fully recognized until he's gone.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT
Photo by Getty Images via Yahoo! Sports/Cagewriter
I said a "Minotauro" victory would be just as much of a moment as Tito Ortiz defeated Ryan Bader at UFC 132. While I hoped that finish would come by submission, I suppose there's some level of irony to appreciate when Nogueira finishes with strikes and Ortiz finishes with a choke.
GOLDBERG LINE OF THE NIGHT
"He was truly welcomed with a hero's welcome!" - Mike Goldberg
I forget who he was talking about, but it was one of the Brazilians, obviously. Either Paulo Thiago or "Minotauro" Nogueira or Anderson Silva. Either way, a typical Mike Goldberg embarrassment of language.
ENTRANCE SONG OF THE NIGHT
Nothing upset me more than "Minotauro" not coming out to the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter." So, while Anderson Silva uses the DMX version, you get Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine."
Despite Dana White's assurance that Zuffa needs more fighters, there's no margin for error in the UFC. It only takes one loss to find a pink slip waiting for you on Monday morning. Who's on the Chopping Block?