Anderson Silva and his moment of zen. Photo by Esther Lin at MMA Figthing.
Let's take the last six participants at UFC 148, and look at an interesting number. In this case, Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Cung Le, Tito Ortiz, and Patrick Cote. From oldest (Le at 40), to youngest (Cote and Griffin both at 32), the combined age of the six fighters totals 215 years. John Adams was sworn in as the second president of the United States that many years ago.
This seems to be an interesting fact about MMA: the older you are, the less likely you'll prematurely end up in the retirement home. In a sport where punches, knees, and moves intended to break limbs are prevalent, how are these guys not playing bingo together, while watching Murder, She Wrote?
To be sure, the worst of the ravages of old age were on display. Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz fought like they were wearing those cargo loaders from Aliens. Their punches blazed passed each other in bullet time, and everytime Ortiz sought a takedown, it was like watching Don Zimmer torpedo himself into the Fenway turf.
Griffin, in what has become a habitual display of petulance, then ran away from the cage, unimpressed with his performance, and perhaps suspecting he lost. For Ortiz, it was a relatively impressive last hurrah. No, he didn't look great. He looked old. But he looked like an old man that cared about how people would remember him. And he fought valiantly as a result.
Silva and Le, on the other hand, looked brilliant. More than looking adept, and like utter technicians of their craft, they looked young.
The word ‘experience' has a very video gameish quality in sports. Like the back of a Marvel trading card profiling a hero or supervillain, it's supposed to represent something quantitative, like speed, stamina, or strength. In MMA it's just a buzzword that translates for more honest descriptions, like "lost a lot but makes less mistakes nowadays", for example.
But I suspect experience does have real qualitative meaning in MMA. After all, there's a lot to learn in this sport. Perhaps too much. How can you instinctually know you're in a good position for an omoplata sweep if you've boxed most of your life? Conversely, how do you instinctually know you're in a good position for a counter hook, or uppercut if you've grappled most of your life?
MMA is anything but linear. If you're a running back in the NFL, and your speed declines as injuries pile up, your shelf life is not even half a decade. In mixed martial arts, half a decade is the required entry fee for success. Anderson Silva's professional fighting career started in 1997. Really think about that for a second.
This is what impresses me most about Anderson Silva. He's a prizefighter that hides his age in a way I consider to be downright supernatural.
Well, away from the cage at least. Injuries have taken their toll on him, but inside the cage he appears as quick, and timely as ever. Likewise for Le.
A lot of people were skeptical of Cung's prospects in this sport, and for good reason. But against Cote, he looked fantastic, snapping kicks like jabs, and countering with a right hook that couldn't miss. The impossibly-chinned Cote even seemed rattled on occasion.
It's nothing short of amazing that we're asking "where do these guys go from here?", with very little thought given to the worry of whether or not they should. It's possible it's on their minds, but their performances do anything but lead us to such conclusions.
Is it silly to suspect we might see the two fight for the MW title? Of course it is. Our very own Brent Brookhouse got me interested in such a mismatch when he considered the fight in his post fight analysis. I honestly wouldn't be shocked though. All it would take is Bisping being sidelined again, Jones keeping his focus on LHW or a move to HW, and Cung getting one more win under his belt, and alas, a "contender" is born.
That's MW for you though. And I don't consider Cung a lesser fighter than Thales Leites, or Travis Lutter, at least in retrospect. Le certainly wouldn't be the worst fighter to fight for the title.
Le likely won't ever have that opportunity, but if he did, it'd be because, like Silva, he's transformed experience from something qualitative, into something quantitative.
Enjoy these relics while you can, MMA fans.