Going into the fight this weekend the pressure on Anderson Silva immense. He has a tremendous amount to lose in his fight against Chael. In most fights it's just the title, but in this fight he is carrying the will of his country. I went in my memory banks to try and think of a similar high pressure situation and it took me all the way back to June 7th.. LeBron James was the focal point of a game he needed to win. It wasn't simply because the Heat would have been eliminated from the playoffs. The loss would have likely caused the dismantling of "The Big Three" in Miami and the firing of Eric Spolestra. It would have almost completely destroyed his chances of being considered an all-time great player. His derision of being "The Ringless King" would have gone from a fire into an explosion. Going into that game he had the type of pressure is seldom seen on an athlete. Fortunately, as a sports fan, we have another situation brewing.
Game 6 Recap
Going into game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals the Miami Heat were down 2-3 against the Boston Celtics. Going into any elimination game there is a certain air of desperation that adds to the drama. This was much more important than most elimination games because this featured the Miami Heat who were one loss away from being eliminated. A team that became notorious after they acquired the top three Free Agents and the crowning jewel of them was LeBron James who left his hometown team to chase a ring.
LeBron flopped badly in the 2011 Finals and the opinion of him being an unclutch player became near fact. The only positive that could have mitigated that loss in the Finals was that it was the first year that the Miami Heat's "Big Three" were together. During the regular season LeBron had one of the best individual seasons in NBA history and captured his third MVP. He was the first three time NBA MVP without a championship ring. A person of LeBron's stature was only judged on titles at this point in his career. The reason for his lack of titles, in the minds of many, was because he didn't have the heart to come through in a big game. Paul Pierce reportedly yelled at LeBron after hitting a clutch three in Game 5, "I have the balls to take that shot," towards him. So even the respect of his peers was on the line.
So heading into game six we had a team in a must win situation who was being lead by a great player who "couldn't" come up big in the clutch on the road. Before the game there were people saying the team should be broken up and if they did lose it would have been proof that the experiment had failed. It would prove that LeBron cannot win, and it would prove that he would never be a top 10 player of all time. The elimination would have permanently scarred LeBron's legacy.
LeBron answered those absurdly high stakes with one of the most fantastic performances in NBA Playoff History. I'll let ESPN Writer Bill Simmons, who was in the crowd, explain it:
I don't know what happened. I just know the shots wouldn't stop going in. After about the fifth dagger in a row (he made 10 straight), the crowd started groaning on every make — shades of Philly's Andrew Toney ripping our hearts out 30 years ago. If you've ever been in the building for one of those games, you know there isn't a deadlier sound. He single-handedly murdered one of the giddiest Celtics crowds I can remember. Thirty points in the first half. Thirty! All with that blank look on his face. It was like watching surveillance video of a serial killer coldly dismembering a body and sticking the parts in the fridge. Only we were right there.
LeBron, in a blank stare, finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Heat then went on to win the NBA Title and LeBron has since quieted most of his critics. He faced perhaps the highest amount of pressure an athlete could and in this case it created a diamond. LeBron's future is still up in the air, but many suspect that he may hit the next level that Michael Jordan hit after his first title.
In any title fight the champion has more to lose than the challenger. If the challenger loses he walks out with what he walked in with. Anderson Silva's pressure has been turned up with most of the pressure coming from his countrymen. Anderson's legacy is fairly cemented, but Chael has masterfully put an entire country on his back. MMA was popular in Brazil during UFC 117, but it didn't truly explode until Anderson Silva faced Vitor Belfort a few months later at UFC 126. The fight basically caused Brazil to shut down for it and Anderson's highlight reel KO made him an overnight superstar in his home country. Other Brazilian fighters seem to have become sensations in Brazil also, but only one of them is in Burger King commercials, music videos, and on the cover of Rolling Stone. Anderson had finally "made it" in Brazil.
I'm sure millions of Brazilians who didn't know who Chael Sonnen was before UFC 114 know who he is going into UFC 148. I'm also sure those people know what he has said and are depending on their newly minted national hero to make him pay for his comments. I feel that this is the reason for Anderson's surprising comments during the conference call last week. He now feels obligated to show the Brazilian fans that he is doing this for them and has further raised expectations.
If Anderson loses he could lose tons of those fans. It could cost him hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. Unfortunately for Anderson, like most fighters, he was finally recognized by the public when he was leaving his prime. So win or lose he may have another 3 fights in him tops and it may be difficult for him to rebuild. Brazilian fans, as we've seen, can be very passionate; they can also be quite ruthless. During UFC 147 they were chastising Vitor Belfort for pulling out of his fight with Wanderlei Silva despite having a cast on his arm. In the "what have you done for me lately" sports world it wouldn't be shocking for many of his fans to bail on him if he loses or even if he doesn't win spectacularly.
So the stakes are tremendous for this fight. Anderson not only has his belt and pound for pound ranking on the line. He has the hopes of an entire country on his back.This is a fight Anderson needs to win. In the last high pressure situation we saw LeBron James came through and showed us a masterpiece. The pressure is immense here and other fighters(GSP) has even mentioned that it may be getting to him. Has it? I don't know, but Saturday I'm going to watch to see if we have a diamond or a busted pipe.