Though the strength of his persona is debatable, Anderson Silva's appendages are incontrovertibly singularizing, totalising forces of violence: his brutal, beautiful choreography is all that is martial incarnate, a harmony of pain.
The near lifeless bodies strewn on the canvas in virtue of this fact, so the story goes, has effectively cemented Anderson Silva's status as the greatest martial artist ever to brush blood on this earth's canvas. This legacy holds true, so we are told, irrespective of the outcome of his bout this Saturday with Chris Weidman. But does it?
I want to say that, at least in this instance specifically, the mixed martial arts community is being collectively swept up in the understandable desire to attach ourselves, even tangentially, to the possibility of greatness. We are as a result allowing awe-induced naiveté to conceal the binding truth of all competition, particularly of the fistic variety: wins and losses almost always, perhaps even categorically, matter. They are understood and applicable to all, Gods of War included.
But it is not simply the general, binding quality of loss that might taint Anderson's legacy through the long view of history - instead, it would be the specific variety of loss with which we are potentially dealing here.
See, the past has a funny way of both concealing and revealing the present and future. So long as previous events and our expectations are merry, temporal bed mates, we gleefully allow the past to slip into a permutable, self reinforcing void. It is only when our anticipations are incorrect that the past juts into hard relief, showing the broken and frayed and fragile textures of our silly whims.
And so it goes with Anderson Silva's legacy should Chris Weidman defeat him, convincingly, in a manner similar to what has been prognisticated over and again. Should that be the case, Anderson Silva would have lost at least (the length of the Weidman bout pending) six-and-a-half out of eight rounds against arguably the only competitors he has faced capable of exploiting his weaknesses.
That Chael Sonnen lost those bouts is, of course, a material fact, and one that justifiably serves to reinforces the warrior mythos we have generated around Anderson Silva. But that mythos is in some way contingent upon us turning the other cheek, on ignoring the trees of those bouts in favour of the forest. A Weidman win, however, makes that act somewhat less palatable; it makes dismissing the Sonnen bouts that much tougher, and it makes the context of Anderson's reign - a weak division generally, and weak for wrestlers particularly - that much more important. To pretend otherwise, and act as if a loss on Saturday night is irrelevant to Anderson's legacy, would simply be a selfish, comforting fiction we tell ourselves so that we may continue to bask in the warmth of someone else's achievements.
Would a defeat retroactively diminish everything Anderson has hitherto accomplished? No, of course not. An exploitable weakness or not, the breadth and depth of punishment that Anderson Silva has wrought on the human form is undeniably great in a way that few can even aspire to.
Yet legacies are the business of hairs, not miles: it is often the fine strokes that define them. A loss to Chris Weidman could very well be the fine stroke that ruins the Mona Lisa's smile.