Let's get this out of the way first: I don't know how I feel about Anderson Silva as a man. I don't know enough about him. I could speculate, based on how he acts in interviews or the Octagon, but I might never know how he actually thinks. I'm not sure many people do. I'm not sure I even care.
As a fighter, though: he's phenomenal. As someone who grew up on Jackie Chan and Batman comics, trying to separate McDojos and myth from 'real' fighting, I feel privileged to be able to watch someone who could do that stuff for real. Not occasionally: not as a one-off, or against sub-standard competition, but against the some of the best opposition the world had to offer.
There were glimmers of it early. When Silva fought Tony Fryklund, the legend goes, his team told him the reverse elbow, which he'd seen in Tony Jaa's Ong Bak, would never work in a real fight, and begged him not to use it - Silva, ever the perfectionist, practised it 200 times a night on a couch cushion held by his wife, then knocked Stryklund cold in under a round. He dismantled Leben easily, then did the same to Franklin - twice. In their second fight, when Franklin looked terrified every time the Thai clinch seemed close, Silva still took risks, rolling and shucking away from punches when there was really no need to. I was furious when he fought Maia and Leites, though with the passage of time I can understand those performances. Whatever it looked like in the cage, he respected their grappling: 'leaving it all in the Octagon' and 'throwing down', and 'fighting for the crowd' are fine for guys who don't ever expect to win a title, and they're even better for the boss - but for a guy who'd nearly given up fighting when it couldn't feed his family? A guy trying to move to America and make a better life? If you're confident saying you'd have fought differently in that situation, you're a better man than me, or you're deluding yourself.
And then there were the great fights, the ridiculous fights, the ones where Silva cemented his legend. Against Griffin, Silva looked like Bruce Lee, but real - fighting a weight category up against a former champion, he put on the sort of show you might never see again. Against Bonnar, he made a mockery of the bigger man's gameplan, standing on the cage and asking him to give it his best shot. He fought with the precision of a surgeon and the power of a prime Tyson - amid all the clowning, you could never tell when the show might end with a cannon-blast knee or a perfectly-placed anchor punch. In any GSP fight since Serra 2, you know what's going to happen after 45 seconds - either the guy can't stop the takedown and will be ground out, or he can stop the takedown and will be jabbed to oblivion. Silva seems to be looking for something purer, something better - not content to win by doing the same thing, but constantly pushing his own limits and redefining the boundaries for everyone else.
And then came the end. Yes, he messed it up. No, I don't care about what it means for Weidman - Weidman's career is something he'll have to define on his own, by holding the belt for as long as he can, however he wants to try and do it. Silva, for his part, was doing what he's done since he first came to the UFC - fighting in a way that defied belief, that seemed so ridiculous it was hard to tell where the clowning ended and reality began.
Anderson Silva is the best fighter I've ever seen. He might be the best fighter who's ever lived. Whatever he does now, it's a privilege to have watched him work.