UFC

Silva has decisions to make after win

FUELTV recaps Anderson Silva's win over Chael Sonnen.
FUELTV recaps Anderson Silva's win over Chael Sonnen.
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Reid Forgrave

Reid Forgrave has worked for the Des Moines Register, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Seattle Times. His work has been recognized by Associated Press Sports Editors, the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists and the Society for Features Journalism. Follow him on Twitter.

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LAS VEGAS

There are two choices that Anderson Silva and the UFC now have after Silva’s dominating second-round TKO of the trash-talking Chael Sonnen in their UFC 148 rematch of an epic first battle.

ONE LAST ROUND

Tito Ortiz left it all in the Octagon during his retirement match. UFC 148 photos

Choice No. 1.: Anderson Silva — he of the 15 consecutive wins, the 10 consecutive middleweight title defenses, and the stunning second-round TKO on Saturday night in UFC 148 in his rematch with Chael Sonnen — retires. He steps away from the sport on top, the no-argument best mixed martial artist ever, and without injury or scrambled brains. This is far from unprecedented. Silva turns 38 next year. Rocky Marciano did it, retiring undefeated at age 32. Jim Brown retired at 29, the greatest running back in history. Barry Sanders did it, and so did Michael Jordan, sort of.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: He’s the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts,” UFC president Dana White said after Silva’s bravura performance Saturday.

Which brings us to choice No. 2, which is a million times more exciting for fans of this ascendant sport: prove that Anderson Silva’s not afraid of any fight. Move up a weight class to the light-heavyweight division. Challenge the supposedly unbeatable Jon Jones in a battle of the old versus the new. Heck, scrap the weight classes altogether for one special superfight, and up the ante in the only way possible after the much-hyped UFC 148.

After you beat Joe Frazier and George Foreman, you shouldn’t go back and fight Chuck Wepner. Just ask the greatest boxer ever, Muhammad Ali.

In the first go-round of Silva and Sonnen two years ago, Sonnen beat the living crap out of the champ for four and a half rounds — until Silva maneuvered Sonnen into a triangle choke in the final round and won by submission.

Saturday night’s first round looked like the fight was heading toward a repeat. Silva missed a punch straight off, and Sonnen tackled Silva to the ground five seconds into the fight. The fight stayed on the ground, and Sonnen dominated the entire first round, landing punches and elbows to a prone Silva.

FLIP THE SCRIPT

Sonnen took Round 1, but then Silva captitalized in UFC 148. Round-by-round analysis

But halfway through the second round, Sonnen missed a spinning back fist and lost his balance. Silva pounced.

“I feel like a doofus because I fell down,” Sonnen said afterward. “But when you’re in the middle of the battle, there’s some parts out there that felt really good, and there were some parts out there that really hurt. Including the end.”

The end came in a flurry, with Silva kneeing Sonnen in the chest, and then Silva straight up beating him down until the referee mercifully intervened at 1:55 of the second round. The 37-year-old fell to his knees in celebration, having barely broken a sweat this time around.

Then the champ shushed the heavily Brazilian crowd. He had something to say.

“Ah, yeah, please, ladies and gentlemen,” Silva said in his surprisingly high voice. “I don’t have nothing for Chael. He disrespected my country? Fine. This is sport. This is UFC.”

Then Silva put his arm around a deflated Sonnen, and you couldn’t tell if he was mocking him or being magnanimous — probably a little of both — when he said this: “Let’s show the Brazilians have manners,” Silva said. “I want everyone to applaud for Chael.” The crown applauded. Silva turned to Sonnen. “Chael, thanks for fight, bro. If you’d like to have barbeque at my house, I’d love to have you over for barbeque.”

And it was said with a smile, making it hurt that much more.

“It’s amazing what the guy continues to accomplish at his age,” White said afterward. “That’s the thing nobody ever thinks about, nobody ever talks about. Nobody ever says, ‘You know, this guy’s pushing 40.’ … This is a young man’s game. One day you just show up and you’re old. It just happens that fast. Things don’t move the way they used to. You’re not as fast as you used to be. You see the things coming but you can’t get out of the way. You see none of that with Anderson Silva.”

“The guy,” White said, “is a freak of nature.”

But even freaks of nature can’t fight time. Silva’s said he’d like to fight another decade, but that’s just utterly unrealistic. The clock is ticking on his career, and therefore the clock is ticking on an epic matchup with a fighter of Jon Jones’ caliber. The question was asked: Would he take that fight?

Silva, dressed like a champ at the post-fight news conference in a black suit, black shirt and black tie, looked up at the sky and shook his head. “No,” he said simply, then pushed the microphone away.

Of course, there’s a third choice, and unfortunately this one is the most likely path: Silva can stay in the now-depleted middleweight division, fight whomever it is the UFC and he agree to be his next opponent, milk out his championship belt for as long as he can, and never fully test his greatness.

So what’s Silva going to do? He’s undefeated in his 15 fights since joining the UFC. He hasn’t lost in six years, and even that loss was through disqualification for an illegal upkick. Possibilities include a fight against Mark Munoz, or Michael Bisping, or Vitor Belfort.

But those fights will be blips on the radar compared to the enormity of the Sonnen rematch. Pay-per-view numbers are expected to set a UFC record, just like the $7 million gate at Saturday’s sold-out fight. Silva’s already considered the greatest ever. A win over a lesser-regarded opponent would do little to burnish that image while risking a lot.

The only way forward — truly forward, and not just staying happy and content with his middleweight belt – would be a superfight with Jon Jones. Or a boxing match with one of the superstars of the other combat sport, which could pique Silva’s interest, given that he challenged Roy Jones Jr. to a boxing match several years ago.

THEY'RE KNOCKOUTS

It's hard not to fall hard for the UFC Octagon Girls.

It’s what the UFC needs to continue its push into the mainstream sporting scene, an event that somehow trumps UFC 148. It’s what Silva needs too, if he’s to be remembered as something more than just the longtime middleweight champion and instead as a transcendent sporting superstar. It doesn’t have to happen now, necessarily. In a year, perhaps, maybe two, before Silva gets too old. It could be his final gift to the UFC, that one fight that could thrust the UFC into another stratosphere.

We can only hope.

And at the end of the post-fight news conference, a hopeful reporter asked: “Anderson, who do you want next?”

“Are you sure you want to hear my answer?” Silva responded.

“Oh yeah,” White answered, turning to him. “We want to hear it.”

We all want to hear it, Anderson. And please, please, please surprise us all, and say you want Jon Jones.

“My clone,” Silva smirked, then pushed the microphone away again.

“I forgot about that,” White said. “The one opponent I can’t get.”

Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.

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