Anderson Silva is headlining yet another Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view card on Aug. 7, which should send shudders up and down the spines of those responsible for paying a cable or satellite bill.
In a terrible economy with a poor recent track record in terms of producing exciting fights, Silva is going to struggle to gain forgiveness from the fans he’s burned so often in the last 22 months or so.
He’ll also fight Chael Sonnen with the pressure of knowing that his boss vowed to cut him if he fails to perform or, more significantly, if he repeats his performance from UFC 112.
The UFC’s uber-talented middleweight champion hasn’t been a hit in the last three pay-per-view cards he’s headlined. Yes, he scored a first-round knockout of Forrest Griffin in a light heavyweight bout at UFC 101 in Philadelphia last year, but that was the semi-main event.
Silva is the UFC’s version of Mike Tyson, a knockout artist unparalleled in the sport’s history. He’s 11-0 in the UFC, holding the company record for the most consecutive wins. He’s also 7-0 in title matches (including his 2006 title-winning effort over Rich Franklin), holding the UFC record for the most championship victories. He was so dominant that not long after he won the belt at UFC 64, UFC president Dana White began calling him the most talented fighter in the world.
Silva, though, has rarely shown killer instinct in the last two years. Even his win over Griffin wasn’t devastating, though that wasn’t his fault. He hit Griffin with a jab while moving backward and stopped him.
More telling is how cautiously he fought in wins over Patrick Cote at UFC 90 in Chicago on Oct. 25, 2008, and over Thales Leites on April 18, 2009, at UFC 97 in Montreal. On April 10 at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on what was a huge night for White and UFC co-owners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, Silva opted to fool around in a win over Demian Maia, causing a seething White to threaten to cut him.
On Aug. 7, Silva is back, and again asking for your $44.95, when he headlines UFC 117 in Oakland, Calif., at Oracle Arena with a title defense against Sonnen, the trash-talking No. 1 contender.
Following UFC 90, which featured little action in the first two rounds before Cote had to withdraw after a third-round knee injury, White came to the post-fight news conference and said, “I was sitting there saying, ‘What the [expletive] is going on?’ ” He also said, “I was sitting there going, ‘No, this isn’t happening,’ ” and, “If you don’t know him and you showed up for the first time, you’d [think] that guy was goofing around. He was acting arrogant and cocky and trying to play with [Cote] like he was a little kid.”
It was more of the same at UFC 97, when Silva declined to follow Leites, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, to the mat and turn a fight into a grappling match, leading to a dull five-round fight. Silva didn’t understand why he was being criticized and said, “Everything I trained to do, I did.”
If that was the case, though, it didn’t please White, who was apologetic following the bout.
“I apologize,” White said at the post-fight news conference that night. “I personally apologize for what happened tonight. You guys know this isn’t what the UFC was built on and this isn’t the way the fights usually go.”
But Silva’s performances at UFC 90 and UFC 97 were just kind of a cruel warm-up act to the comedy skit that went on during his title defense against Maia, the first UFC card in the Middle East and the first with the White and Fertitta’s new partners, Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment, in place.
It was clear two or so minutes into the fight that Silva was exceptionally more talented than Maia. He was out-striking Maia in the first, mostly with a jab, and broke Maia’s nose with a flying knee in the second. However, he was prancing around the ring, talking incessantly to Maia. At one stage, he ducked behind massive referee “Big” Dan Miragliotta. He shook his rear end, slapped the mat, made odd faces and mocked his countryman repeatedly. What he didn’t do was what he had done so well so often in the past: finish the fight.
By the latter stages of the fourth round and throughout the fifth, the crowd was chanting Maia’s name. It respected the fact that even though Maia didn’t have half of Silva’s talent, he was clearly expending twice the effort as the champion. Maia gave the fans their money’s worth that night. Silva, clearly, did not.
White nearly lost his composure in Abu Dhabi. He didn’t see the end of the fight, leaving ringside during the fourth round and handing the championship belt to Silva’s manager, Ed Soares, to present to Silva in the ring.
When White showed up that night at the post-fight news conference, he was visibly angry, breathing loudly as he waited for the high sign from the video technicians before beginning.
“I’ll answer the questions about what a disgrace the main event was and what an embarrassment it is,” White said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more embarrassed in 10 years of being in this business. It’s the first time I’ve ever walked out of a main event.”
Had Silva fought against Cote, Leites and Maia like he had most of his UFC fights, when he destroyed quality fighters like Rich Franklin (twice), Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt, among others, he’d probably be preparing for a superfight against welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
White, though, was outraged at the way Silva performed and didn’t see the need to reward him with a megafight. So instead, he’s defending his 185-pound title again, this time against Sonnen, who for the last seven months has unloaded a verbal assault on the champion in the clear hope of building his name and attracting interest in the fight.
Sonnen is a former collegiate wrestling star who upset Marquardt at UFC 109 in February to earn the title shot. He vowed to use his wrestling to defeat Silva next month, saying, “He’ll back on his back more than a [prostitute] with a mortgage.”
Sonnen has given Silva plenty of motivation, though it’s hard to gauge the champion. He is uncomfortable speaking English in public and uses Soares to translate his Portuguese. Plus, if Silva weren’t motivated following the very public tongue-lashings White has given him, it’s difficult to understand what could motivate him to fight for a finish.
The UFC under White has become the rare professional sport where winning simply isn’t enough. In White’s regime, it’s not solely that you win which counts; how you win counts equally as much. Silva has found himself on both sides of that equation during his four-year tenure in the UFC, which began with a stunningly quick and brutal 49-second knockout of Chris Leben on an Ultimate Fight Night card in Las Vegas on June 28, 2006.
He’s had the highlight-reel finishes that made him an international phenomenon and the boo-inducing bouts that have drawn White’s ire.
White prefers the flashy knockout, the highlight-reel finish over the conservative but fight-winning approach every time. That approach is what has helped the UFC to become a global phenomenon and surpass boxing in terms of overall popularity, but it also rankles many purists who despise White’s intervention into an area they believe he doesn’t belong.
Clearly, White girded for a potential fan backlash against Silva by putting together a stronger-than-average card. Included on the card is a fight between Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves for the right to become the No. 1 welterweight contender, as well as a significant and intriguing heavyweight match between slugger Junior dos Santos and bad-body tough guy Roy Nelson. The winner of that bout could wind up fighting the Brock Lesnar-Cain Velasquez winner for the belt sometime in 2011.
The pressure is going to be on Silva to get rid of Sonnen, who has been submitted six times and stopped twice among his 10 losses. If Silva doesn’t finish the fight but wins and makes a clear effort toward doing so, he’ll move forward with no issues.
But if there is a repeat, the pressure will shift from Silva to White. White vowed after UFC 112 to cut Silva should he fight as he did that night ever again.
If Silva prances his way to an unsatisfying win, the burden will shift to White to back up his tough talk and ax the man he’s touted for years as the best fighter in the world.
That would be far more interesting to watch than any of Silva’s last three title defenses have been.