Silva cements status as Brazilian icon
Anderson Silva capped off a triumphant return to Brazil for the UFC by taking apart Yushin Okami in the main event of UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro.
In what was at times a spellbinding performance, Silva demonstrated eerie control and calmness, feeling out the challenger from inside the clinch for most of the first round. Only at the very end did he show flashes of his best with a fluid combination that saw darting punches set up a snap high-kick.
Having taking the measure of Okami and loosened up Silva came out strong in the second round, putting together a blistering combination that tore into Okami’s defenses. Then in scenes reminiscent of his fight against Forrest Griffin, he dropped his hands, dared his opponent to come forward and dropped them with perfect counterstrikes, clinically finishing the fight.
The victory cements Silva’s already secure place in the record books. It’s his 14th win inside the UFC Octagon, a record winning streak that includes an unprecedented nine successful title defenses. On Oct. 14, Silva will become the first champion in the sport’s history to celebrate a five-year reign and first to defend his title in four different countries.
Such statistics are milestones that Silva has already passed. But in many ways Silva’s greatest achievements now stand before him. Silva has been great for many, many years but his superstardom has been constantly questioned. The poor performance of his early title defenses on pay-per-view and an early struggle for the quiet, mild-mannered Brazilian to connect with fight fans caused many to dismiss him as a bland fighter who lacked the charisma to translate his in-ring excellence into commercial success.
For the past few years that narrative has been challenged with Silva proving an entertainingly erratic presence at the top of UFC events, developing an unpredictable persona that came across to many Americans as arrogant. The performances against Thales Leites and Demian Maia set him up as a superstar heel for his next fights against roughhouse Americans Forrest Griffin and Chael Sonnen.
But now Silva is at the level where he doesn’t have to play the foreign heel. That is partly because he has won over an increasing number of American fans with mesmerizing performances, but more to do with developments in his homeland.
In a moment of perfect synergy, the UFC secured a mainstream television deal in Brazil in time for millions of his countrymen see Silva knockout national celebrity Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 in February. Since then Silva’s stock in Brazil has risen exponentially, as shown by the world middleweight champion being greeted by increasingly large crowds in the build-up to Saturday’s event Rio de Janeiro.
He has also received an increasing number of blue-chip endorsements after being signed up as the first client of Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo’s new sports agency 9INE. These deals included starring in a series of humorous Burger King commercials and being asked to showcase the uniform of local soccer powerhouse Corinthians.
All of these developments have left Brazilian MMA at an historic crossroads. With UFC chairman and CEO Lorenzo Ferttita talking of the possibility of multiple events in the country next year, there is now the chance of Brazilian fighters regularly competing in front of their home fans. All that is needed is for a charismatic local star to lead the charge, much like how Georges St. Pierre’s victory over Matt Serra in Montreal led to a boom in the sport’s popularity in Canada.
Anderson Silva’s victory over Yushin Okami is the same moment for the UFC in Brazil. Indeed, already there is talk of the next Brazilian show being held at an outdoor arena large enough to break UFC 129’s attendance record.
While Brazil has always been the sport’s spiritual birthplace, the success of Silva can help ensure that the next generation of Brazilian fighters don’t have to travel overseas for fame and fortune like he and so many of his peers were forced to do.