The UFC sent out an e-mail Monday with quotes from 18 of its most well-known fighters, all of whom mostly agreed on two things: Middleweight champion Anderson Silva is probably the best fighter in mixed martial arts history, and he’s about to get beat up by a guy from Long Island with nine pro fights to his credit.
For nearly seven years, Silva (33-4 MMA, 16-0 UFC) has enjoyed an uninterrupted reign atop the UFC’s middleweight division. He also has made occasional forays up to the light-heavyweight class, where he embarrassed one former champion and toyed with other opponents like a housecat dissecting a dragonfly.
But Silva is 38. When he takes on challenger Chris Weidman (9-0, 5-0) at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday at UFC 162 (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET), he’ll be gunning for his 17th consecutive UFC win and 11th successful title defense in a row. Both would be UFC records. Even if he lost and retired, he’d still be regarded as the best middleweight of all time, maybe the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Silva, of course, has no intention of losing or retiring. He recently signed a 10-fight deal with the UFC that, at his current pace, would take him well past his 40th birthday. He intends to fight every one of those bouts, he said this week, though he insists it isn’t money or a hunger for glory that’s driving him.
“What motivates me is to be able to do what I love to do, which is to fight,” Silva told USA TODAY Sports through a translator. “I love to fight. I love the preparation. I love to learn new things, always overcoming myself. I love being in the gym and everything involved in it.”
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The longer he sticks around, however, the more the feeling grows that even Silva’s greatness must have an expiration date. UFC President Dana White has likened the champ to a temperamental artist who is at times difficult to negotiate with, but not necessarily in a bad way.
If Silva keeps winning long enough to fulfill his ambitious 10-fight deal, White told news reporters this week, “Nobody better ever deny this guy’s the greatest of all time.”
And yet, that’s something Silva won’t admit to thinking about himself. At least, not yet.
“He’s never said to me that he thinks he’s the greatest,” said Silva’s longtime manager, Ed Soares. “What he’s said is, ‘Ed, I think I can do things that other people think are impossible.'”
Maintaining his dominance into his 40s would be a seemingly impossible feat, especially as younger fighters such as Weidman look for ways to upset him.
The theory is that Weidman’s takedowns and ferocious finishing power will present a difficult matchup for Silva. Pundits and fellow fighters point to similarly equipped wrestlers who gave Silva trouble in the past, yet they conveniently leave out the fact that he found a way to beat them in the end.
The forecasts of his impending demise seem to amuse Silva, who approaches each title defense with detachment. “In my house there is a guessing tree,” Silva said of his peers’ predictions. “But it never guesses anything right.”
Still, the history of prizefighting shows that every great champion gets done in by age eventually. Silva’s vow to keep fighting suggests he’s intent on discovering his limits in the cage, regardless of the cost.
“I really believe he’ll know when to hang it up,” Soares said. “But right now, he seems to be getting better and better.”
He’s also getting wealthier and more famous with each victory, both of which are more important to Silva than he will admit, White says.
“He does care about his legacy,” White said. “And none of them like to say it in public, (but) he cares about making money, too.”
If Silva doesn’t see himself as the greatest already, it’s hard to imagine what more it would take. A victory against largely untested Weidman? A win in a superfight with fellow champions Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre? Silva can’t — or maybe just won’t — say.
“It’s not one specific thing,” he said. “It’s not that there’s something missing. It’s just a question of being able to say that once I’m finished.
“Maybe one day when I’m retired, I can turn around and tell you, ‘Hey, I was really good at that. Maybe I was the best.'”
Ben Fowlkes , USA TODAY Sports