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The Greatness Of Anderson Silva | UFC Hall Of Fame Class Of 2023

Reflecting On Nearly A Decade Of Dominance Inside The Octagon As “The Spider” Takes His Rightful Place In The UFC Hall of Fame

Some person that found the UFC during the pandemic or when Conor McGregor burst onto the scene might have an ill-formed idea about Anderson Silva, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this week.

A quick glance at his resume depicts a grim final third — a solitary victory over his final nine fights; two stoppage losses and two more bouts where leg injuries halted the action, as well as a no contest result in a clash with Nick Diaz at UFC 168 best remembered for the Stockton native’s antics and not the action between the two beloved fighters.

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But those that were around before that — that watched him arrive in the middleweight division like an seismic force, claiming the championship in his second UFC appearance before authoring one of the greatest championship reigns in the history of the sport — will always be there, quick to hasten those newcomers not to judge “The Spider” by the final eight years of his career, ready to pop in a highlight tape and walk them through the moments, the matchups, the memories that make the now 48-year-old Brazilian one of the most iconic figures in UFC history.

Anderson Silva celebrates his victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on February 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC)
Anderson Silva celebrates his victory over Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on February 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC)

Anderson Silva beat Chris Leben in 49 seconds in his promotional debut, stopping “The Crippler” with a knee from the clinch. Less than four months later, he felled Rich Franklin in just under three minutes, finishing him with a similar shot to claim the middleweight title.

Travis Lutter made it into the second round before getting finished. Nate Marquardt couldn’t escape the first. And Franklin got stopped for a second time by a storm of knees, giving Silva three wins in 2007 and a 5-0 record in the UFC.

He kicked off 2008 by submitting former PRIDE champ Dan Henderson, then moved up in weight and dropped James Irvin in 61 seconds on Spike TV, catching a lazy kick and crushing him with a shotgun blast of a right hand that showed Silva could thrive at light heavyweight if he wanted to permanently relocate to the light heavyweight ranks.

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His fight with Patrick Cote at UFC 90 ended with the French-Canadian title challenger suffering a knee injury, and his bout with fellow Brazilian Thales Leites went the distance in Montreal, with Silva looking non-plussed in each fight, prompting many to wonder whether he was starting to slip or was simply unbothered by the prospects of facing either man.

Any questions about slippage were answered emphatically on August 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, when Silva stole the show at UFC 101 by turning in a virtuosic performance against former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin.

After feeling Griffin out for the first two minutes, Silva stumbled the fan favorite with a right hook before meeting him in the center of the Octagon and imploring him to come forward and fight. He lowered his hands and stood in front of Griffin, unbothered by what could potentially come his way.

For the next 60 seconds, the middleweight champion made like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix, evading every punch Griffin offered and cracking him back with sniper blasts that did clear, immediate, punishing damage. Hands at his waist, he twisted his torso and slid his shoulders back to avoid the incoming fire, which looked slow and labored in comparison to the rockets Silva was sending at Griffin.

Anderson Silva Named To UFC Hall Of Fame Class Of 2023
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Anderson Silva Named To UFC Hall Of Fame Class Of 2023
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When Griffin looked to press forward, Silva put him on the canvas with a sharp jab and Griffin raised his hands in surrender, the intriguing co-main event clash over in less than three-and-a-half minutes after looking like a one-sided sparring session for a clearly superior talent.

He followed his best performance (to date) with his most enigmatic, a five-round decision win over Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi at UFC 112 where he didn’t really engage all that much. Shortly after the contest, a brash challenger named Chael Sonnen appeared on the scene, launching verbal salvos at Silva, his teammates, and the nation of Brazil, promising to wrest the middleweight title away from the dominant, but mercurial, champion.

For 23 minutes at UFC 117, Sonnen was true to his word, relentlessly pursuing Silva and putting him on the canvas, grinding out rounds from top position until his coronation as the new middleweight champion felt inevitable.

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But before he could claim the title, Sonnen made the cardinal mistake of letting Silva gain wrist control and, in the blink of an eye, the battered, seemingly beaten champion threw up a triangle choke that left the challenger dead to rights. Silva arched his back, extending his hips, adding an armbar to the equation and Sonnen tapped, quickly, before trying to argue that wasn’t the case.

For the second time in 364 days, Silva put his brilliance on full display, with the confusing effort against Maia standing in between as an example of what could happen when he wasn’t fully engaged.

If the win over Sonnen showed his championship mettle, his fight with and victor over Vitor Belfort is what made him a legend.

Silva was the champion, but Belfort was the star, at least in their native Brazil.

When Belfort burst onto the scene in the late 90s, he was every bit “The Phenom,” a young bundle of explosive power and promise; a breakout star who chased Wanderlei Silva across the Octagon, driving him backwards with piston-like lefts and rights until “The Axe Murderer” fell. His personal life was for public consumption, and despite bouncing through various promotions while Silva was ruling the UFC middleweight division, Belfort was always a massive star.

Anderson Silva | Greatest Hits
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Anderson Silva | Greatest Hits
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Everything about their meeting was tense, including the final face-off, where Silva donned an all-white mask similar to those worn by the breakdancing crew The Jabbawockeez as the two went forehead-to-forehead. Silva then slid the mask up and got right back into Belfort’s face, the two men jawing at each other as Dana White tried to force his way between them to keep them from coming to blows.

The first three minutes of the fight were largely uneventful — two dangerous men circling one another, exchanging occasional low kicks with Belfort rushing forward and landing a lone solid left hand before catching a head kick attempt and spilling Silva to the canvas, only for the champion to pop right back to his feet instantaneously.

As they worked back to space, Silva flashed the defensive movements that defined his fight with Griffin, avoiding everything Belfort had to offer before snapping out a front kick that landed directly on his opponent’s chin.

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“He front kicked him in the face!” Joe Rogan boomed on the broadcast as Silva put the finishing touches on another signature victory.

Later that year, the UFC returned to Rio de Janeiro, and Silva received a hero’s welcome, headlining the show and successfully defending his title against Yushin Okami. The highlight reel finish of Belfort had turned the unquestioned best fighter on the planet into an unquestioned MMA superstar, including at home, and this was a celebration of Silva and all things Brazilian MMA.

Just under a year later, he shared the Octagon with Sonnen for a second time, getting out-wrestled in the first to prompt feelings of deja vu before dispatching “The Bad Guy” in the second round, punctuating the finish with a vicious knee to the chest while Sonnen was seated along the fence.

Three months later, he returned to Brazil and the light heavyweight division, taking a short notice fight with veteran Stephan Bonnar, styling on the former Ultimate Fighter finalist, displaying the flair and showmanship that came to define his reign atop the sport.

The first-round stoppage win on October 13, 2012 would be his last until a decision win over Derek Brunson on February 11, 2017; the final victory in a record 16-fight UFC winning streak.

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Nine months later, he stepped in with undefeated rising star Chris Weidman, took the standout from Long Island too lightly and paid a costly price, losing his title, his winning streak, and his aura of invincibility all in one careless performance. They ran it back later in the year with the sequel ending two seconds sooner than the first encounter, when Silva’s leg snapped as Weidman checked a low kick.

He eventually worked his way back, but he was never the same.

* * *

 

Anderson Silva reacts to his victory over Nick Diaz in their middleweight bout during the UFC 183 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 31, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Anderson Silva reacts to his victory over Nick Diaz in their middleweight bout during the UFC 183 event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 31, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Silva’s performance against Griffin remains one of the most impressive efforts I’ve ever seen inside the Octagon. It was mind-blowing at the time and it feels like people forget just how ridiculous is was to see Silva dig, duck, and dodge everything coming his way before cracking Griffin with individual clean shots that put him on the deck, his body screaming “No Mas!” as he lay on his back.

Griffin entered his previous fight as the UFC light heavyweight champion, and while he lost the title that night to Rashad Evans, he was still one of the best light heavyweights in the sport and Silva made him look like a dude that had no business being in the Octagon with him.

The comeback win over Sonnen is still the best comeback of all time.

I remember sitting at Applebee’s, the room filled with a din of disbelief as we all collectively watched the greatest fighter on the planet get outwrestled by a guy that felt like another “next man up” challenger like Cote, Leites, and Maia before he started spitting professional wrestling promos and making things personal.

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And then, just like that, Silva laces his legs together over Sonnen’s neck, trapping the shoulder and arm, his face instantly changing color.

When he tapped — and make no mistake about it, Sonnen clearly tapped — the place erupted.

To follow that up by sending Belfort to the canvas with a snapping front kick to the chin is preposterous, but also somehow entirely plausible because that’s how good Silva was; nothing surprised you.

Yes, there were frustrating efforts and, for some reason, they became the defining element of his career for a period of time, but from the time he debuted until his fight with Bonnar in Rio, Silva posted 16 consecutive victories, 14 of them by stoppage, and successfully defended the middleweight title 10 times.

Everyone Wanted To Be Anderson Silva
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Everyone Wanted To Be Anderson Silva
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Watching Silva operate inside the Octagon was like watching Picasso paint because that is precisely what he was: an artist crafting masterpieces on a different kind of canvas, equally as breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

There is a reason sharing the cage with Silva was such an honor and transformative experience for fighters like Michael Bisping, Daniel Cormier, Israel Adesanya, and Uriah Hall — he was the gold standard as the first two came up and eventually worked their own championship success, and an inspiration and idol for “The Last Stylebender” and “Prime Time.”

Anderson Silva was the best fighter on the planet for seven years, and remains one of the greatest of all-time, and nothing can ever change that fact.