Headed into UFC Vegas 12 on Saturday night, few believed it would be Anderson Silva’s last fight—and almost assuredly, it won’t be. If anything, fans were simply hoping the 45-year-old wouldn’t fail in an ignominious fashion and ignite those all-too-familiar pangs of disappointment, regret, and even guilt that so often come when combat athletes fight long past their prime.
Naturally, of course, that’s exactly what happened. The typically passive and inactive Uriah Hall suddenly sprang to life after 14 minutes, sent Silva clattering to the canvas and never looked back—eventually dribbling the former pound-for-pound king’s head off the floor for the fourth-round knockout.
The stoppage was a sorrowful pill to swallow, even if many expected as much. It was made all the more bitter by the fact that, while Silva is clearly a diminished version of the fighter he once was, he was still able to offer brief glimpses of his former self. And he was certainly winning the bout, until Hall detonated a right hand on his face late in the third round and instigated the beginning of the end. That’s only one piece of an overall awkward puzzle, though.
Regardless of any fans’ fondness – or lack there of – for the ‘Spider’, it would take some sort of nihilistic weirdo to be indifferent to a fighter of his stature being so viscerally smashed by Hall. But beyond that gut reaction, what’s really changed in light of the outcome?
While hardly shocking, the always mercurial Hall initiated a prolonged kneeling, bowing embrace-a-thon after the bout which seemed to go on for hours. And although it never felt corny or contrived, especially given Hall’s ever-present emotional candor, it still felt somehow hollow and out of place; exacerbated by Silva giving pro forma “goodbyes” to a virtually non-existent crowd in the sparsely populated, sterile environment of the UFC Apex.
Just minutes after the ersatz attempts to celebrate Silva even in defeat, there he was in his post-fight interview, admitting it was “tough to say” if it was his final bout, while asserting it was his “final show for the UFC fans and the UFC family.” But, UFC President Dana White was quick to inhabit one of his tried and true promoter personas, the ‘I Don’t Want To See Them Fight Again’ Guy.
This Dana variation was first crystallized a decade ago, as he pleaded for former UFC light heavyweight champion – and White’s former managerial client – Chuck Liddell to retire after being starched by Rich Franklin. More recently, as the UFC is perpetually pressed to squeeze every last drop it can out of once-bankable stars, this Dana variation has become more pliable: the UFC boss had been calling for BJ Penn to retire since 2013, yet Penn still fought in the UFC four more times over the next six years. (And it would have been five if video of his involvement in a bar brawl in his native Hawaii didn’t surface, resulting in his release and the cancellation of his slated bout with Nik Lentz last September.)
Given Silva and White’s stated positions, until the former champion convalesces and finds whatever flicker of a fire he’s got left to continue fighting, we won’t have any distinct idea of what comes next for him. If the UFC did cut him loose as a courtesy, it’s easy and reflexive to imagine mutual interest in Bellator MMA, but even with promoter Scott Coker’s penchant for prizefighting nostalgia, a multi-million dollar investment in Silva for a minimal payoff would be foolish (it seems unlikely the Brazilian would be able to offer the short-term activity signings like Fedor Emelianenko and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson did). And with a roster in flux, Bellator isn’t primed for any imminent return to pay-per-view and wouldn’t be able to capitalize on whatever interest remains in Silva by plunking him on the little-watched CBS Sports Network.
Similarly, despite having made his early career predominately in Japan, it’s not as though Silva is any appreciable star there; certainly not one that fits with Rizin’s current product and strategy. Even a company like One Championship, always interested in any activity to maximize its publicity, wouldn’t be likely to make any real return on investment with a limited-use, limited-purpose Silva—especially given the less-than-stellar payoffs in recent acquisitions like Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, and Sage Northcutt.
In all honesty, given the state of Silva, not just competitively but also as a promotional commodity, the most prudent thing for him to do – and likely the path of least resistance to break free from his UFC contractual obligations – would be to rekindle his longstanding, insatiable obsession with boxing Roy Jones Jr.
Silva has spent over a decade pining for the fight, and Jones has even reciprocated the interest—having gone on an unnervingly protracted retirement tour over the last several years (which continues later this month when the 51-year-old meets fellow boxing legend Mike Tyson on Nov. 28 in Los Angeles, in an eight-round exhibition bout, featuring two-minute rounds and 12-ounce gloves). After ‘retiring’ following his last professional fight in February 2018, a unanimous decision over unheralded cruiserweight Scott Sigmon, Jones specifically mentioned an interest in fighting Silva. Despite the pair now being nearly a century old combined, it’s more sensible now than it would have been over a decade ago.
The overwhelming majority of fight fans likely have no desire to see Anderson Silva fight again, and anyone who wants the chance to remember his greatness will do so by digging in the archives to see him at the peak of his powers. Not in his dim and dismaying twilight. If there is any intrigue to be had, or any approximation of an ‘appropriate’ fight for Silva to end things on, just grant Silva his persistent wish. Yes, it’s perfunctory and a little goofy, but not entirely pointless. It’s lower risk, especially medically speaking, than a legitimate prizefight and could potentially do a decent job monetizing whatever morbid curiosity exists for such an undertaking. If Silva is insistent on continuing to fight in some form or fashion – and he certainly seems so – let it at least make some semblance of sense, even if it’s a fight we spent years deriding for being silly.
Silva vs. RJJ in 2021? It’s hardly a ‘dream fight’, but at least it’s not a complete nightmare. That’s all anyone really cares about at this point, and better than many faded legends get.