It is 2017. And a UFC PPV event headlined by Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie has an Anderson Silva fight on the card. The former pound-for-pound number one will be fighting Derek Brunson. It raises the question: how did we get here?
Despite his recent losses, a mystique still surrounds Anderson Silva. “The Spider” once showcased a striking arsenal that left his opponents embarrassed and, in most cases, knocked out on the floor. But over the years, Silva lost speed and explosiveness, and he eventually ran into a wall named Chris Weidman who dethroned the clowning middleweight champion and took his title.
Since then Silva not only suffered a devastating leg injury in the rematch with Weidman, but he has also been without a win, although when we look closely at his record the story of Silva’s career looks different.
The Brazilian returned after his injury, a broken leg, against Nick Diaz at UFC 183. He won the fight but the Nevada Athletic Commission later stripped him of the victory due to failed drug tests. Nevertheless, no one would argue the notion that Silva was the better fighter on that night. He looked hesitant in the early phase of the fight and had to deal with Diaz’s trash talk, but that did not prevent him from initially scoring a dominant decision victory.
After being sidelined again for a while, Silva made his next comeback, this time against Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 84 in London. The Englishman was clearly the more active man in the cage, yet almost gave the bout away when he lost his mouthpiece close to the end of the third round. Bisping was distracted for a split second and hit by a brutal flying knee. On another day, referee Herb Dean waves the fight off. Silva lost via unanimous decision, though everybody realized that the former middleweight champion can still be deadly at times.
His next fight and loss came at UFC 200 when he replaced Jon Jones on short notice in a bout with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier. Cormier played it safe and took Silva down repeatedly, because even the physically superior fighter knew what Silva is capable of in the standup and did not want to take any risks.
Of course, critics can point out that technically Silva’s last victory dates back to the year 2012 when he defeated Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153. Yet, in reality, we do not know if Silva is completely past his prime or if he has simply put a string of weird fights together. He clowned around in his title fight, broke his leg in another one, took PEDs when coming back and lost two decisions in fights of which he could have won at least one.
Instead of pushing Anderson Silva into the category ‘fun fighter with name value’, the UFC is testing whether the 41-year-old can still be a serious, ranked middleweight. And for that purpose, Brunson is the perfect opponent. The 33-year-old North Carolina-native comes off a somewhat odd loss to Robert Whittaker when Brunson chased his opponent through the Octagon, ran face-first at him for the better part of a round and was consequently knocked out.
It is a do-or-die situation for Silva. If he cannot beat Brunson, even at this point in his career, the times in which you had to take him seriously might be over. But the Brazilian, who is still convinced that he belongs to the elite of mixed martial artists and even recently mentioned a potential dream matchup with Irish superstar Conor McGregor, for once has to put a fight together where he does not take unnecessary breaks, where he does not clown and where he does utilize all his tools. And who knows, a win over Brunson might put Anderson Silva back into title contention in the middleweight division.