As it has become a routine after every Wanderlei Silva outing, the internet is once again swarmed by posts asking for his retirement. After a saturday night where he brawled with a man known for his heavy hands in Brian Stann, withstood what his foe had to offer and finished in vintage, violent Pride-reminiscent fashion, I can't help but to find all this scrutiny of him unfair.
While concerns over his long term health are valid, and the shadow of Gary Goodridge's case stands like a sign of warning, signs of his body fading are greatly exaggerated. Arguments that he is washed up, his chin is shot and his body is fading just fail to hold up in face of the facts.
All of Wanderlei's knockout losses came to men among the heaviest hitters to ever compete in MMA. Dan Henderson, Mirko Crocop, Quinton Jackson (who caught him flush with a shot that would drop a rhyno), Chris Leben. He had a 3 round war with Chuck Liddell, and took the Iceman's best shots while remaing in the fight and returning fire. Against fighters with lesser knockout power, he remained unphazed against Bisping and Franklin, recovered well against Le and now against Stann.
And while his chin was solid during his prime, it was not his greatest asset, his recovery capacity was. And it still is above average, as it was on display at the Saitama Arena, aswell as on the fight against Cung Le.
Offensively, he is not the wrecking machine he once was, but he is still a threat to any fighter. Even with the weight cut that seemed to take a toll on his power, he finished Cung Le, and seriously hurt Bisping and Franklin. On his return to LHW, he landed crushing blows on Stann, remained composed and picked his shots to turn his opponent lights out with surgical blows.
My main point is, Silva's skills show absolutely no sign of diminishing any further that what has to be expected of age. He is still relatively fast and powerful. He still has above average capacity of absorbing blows and recovering from being wobbled. He is not going through anything remotely similar to what Liddell went through.
MMA fighters are at a risk of getting knocked out whenever they step into a ring or octagon, regardless of being veterans or young prospects (just look at Struve). Wanderlei's speech is coherent, his reflexes are on point for a man his age, as is his speed, sharpness and power. The evolution of the sport and expansion of the skill set of new fighters are by far more significant obstacles for another run at the top than his tremendously overplayed physical decay.
Moments like saturday night are what made me fall in love with this sport, and whenever Wanderlei Silva steps in the ring there will be chances of this moment repeating itself. Bisping has been on the verge of a title shot, and Stann has been in talks of contendership. Cung Le knocked out Franklin. And the Axe Murderer beat those men violently.
When the day comes where he is knocked out by Rich Franklin with a broken arm I'll be calling for his retirement, but not just yet. His recent outings show no sign for worry beyond a natural decline with age and evolution of the sport.
For now I'm more than happy to tune into a PPV, grab a beer and listen to sandstorm a couple more times.