What will become of the legacy of “The Spider” Anderson Silva (27-4), who fights tonight at UFC 126? When his career has faded into the grainy memory of mixed martial arts, what will be remembered? Will it be his vicious, calculated striking? Will fans talk of the daunting 12 consecutive wins that he currently holds within the toughest promotion on the planet? How will the MMA community remember his demolition of “Ace” Rich Franklin (28-5) not once, but twice in a shocking symphony of punches and kicks that left “Ace” crumpled on the floor, humbled and broken? Or will we remember the indifferent, stand-offish Silva? The one who danced around “The Predator” Patrick Cote (13-7) at UFC 90. When the fighter who toyed with Thales Leites (18-4) and Demian Maia (14-2), the latter of which was so painful to watch that even Silva’s biggest supporters shook their heads, puzzled as to why one of the most gifted fighters the sport has ever seen would act in such a pathetic and classless manner.
There is nothing easy about being Anderson Silva. He has talents that only a very small percentage of people in the world possess and he has developed those talents into a fighting genius that comes only once in a lifetime. Like Anderson’s favorite superhero, Spiderman, it is true that with great power comes great responsibility. He is responsible for doing his job, which is to fight, and at times he has let his bosses down. He has a responsibility to the audience, who without their viewership, “The Spider” would not enjoy the lifestyle he is afforded today and yet, he has let them down as well. When confronted by journalists about the crimes of indifference he has committed, Silva shrugs. “Not every fight can go as you plan,” he might say. An infantile “Sorry”, uttered in his alto-Brazilian accent. Fans light up the internet with their displeasure, calling him arrogant and overrated, wishing his next opponent not just to defeat him, but embarrass and shame him. Some argue that it’s not Anderson’s fault at all. They say he is so far beyond his opponents in terms of ability that it’s impossible for him to take them seriously. They say that he’s never really in danger and can win at any time without any real effort – and they may have a point. Just ask Chael Sonnen (25-11-1) how easily Anderson Silva can claim a victory in a split second.
With all that can be said about the often-maligned champion, with his dark sunglasses and one-word answers, we cannot forget that at the end of the day, Anderson Silva is only human and thus is fallible. He cannot be the perfect champion. No one can. In fact, take a moment to think about every champion in MMA today. Now be honest and admit that there is no champion for whom no criticism may be allotted. There is not one champ who has not taken the lashings of the public. If not criticized for their attitude, they are ridiculed for their fighting style, or their lack of experience, or their questionable chin. No champion will ever stay in favor with the seasoned fans, because it is not in our nature. Spectators feel entitled and almost obligated to cut down those at that top, so that they are attainable to us. “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (21-2) couldn’t be a more complete athlete or nicer person, and he is even criticized for that.
Anderson Silva is an easy target, with his sometimes cavalier attitude towards his fights and the outright disrespect he has shown to opponents and fans alike. But being a fighter is nothing short of walking the line of insanity. Fighters are paid to put themselves in harm’s way, in a cage, in front of millions of people. They may walk out seriously injured, they may not walk out at all. And when they aren’t fighting, they are fielding repetitive questions, about opponents, gameplans, their style, and of course: their shortcomings. Now ask yourself how well you would respond to that kind of pressure. Anderson does not handle pressure the way we would like him to, and fans have to get over that. He is a man who puts himself at risk for his pay. He is a man who has accomplished things that other mixed martial artists may never be able to recreate. Tonight, he will pit himself against a foe who can end anyone’s night quickly and violently. That foe tends to be universally more well-liked than Anderson as well. It is easy to root against him these days, but he hasn’t given the crowd the finger, he hasn’t punched a fighter after the bell, and he hasn’t even laid on someone for five rounds to grab a boring if safe victory.
Anderson Silva is a great champion who has not only shown his brilliance, but his flaws as well and for all the flaws, through all the criticism, all the expectations, all the pain, Anderson has prevailed. Try for one second to imagine staring across the cage from “The Phenom” Vitor Belfort (19-8) and not losing your mind, even a little. Here’s to lucky number 13.