Silva reign still strong after five years
The superlatives that can be written about Anderson Silva are almost endless, with the world middleweight champion having established himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time over the course of a 14-fight winning streak in the UFC.
Asked him what makes his fighter special, Silva’s manager Ed Soares placed a great emphasis on the champion’s intellect.
“He’s very intelligent inside the Octagon,” Soares said. “He’s very calculating, looking for his opponent to make a mistake and capitalize on it. There (are) very few opportunities to finish a fight, and Anderson knows when it’s the right moment to do that.”
The legacy Silva has built in the world’s premier mixed martial organization began five years ago, on Oct. 14, 2006, when he faced Rich Franklin for the middleweight title at UFC 64.
It’s easy to forget that, at that time, many favored the champion over the unknown challenger, who, after an erratic run in Pride FC, was in only his second UFC fight. However, much like his first opponent inside the Octagon, Chris Leben, Franklin had no chance against Silva’s punishingly accurate and relentless striking. The same was true when the two fought in a rematch the following year. Silva was just too good for a man previously unbeatable at 185 pounds.
From the day he won the title, Silva began to tear through the division, impressing fans while convincingly dismantling the likes of Travis Lutter and Nate Marquardt. With his Muay Thai background, Silva dominated the middleweight division with explosive striking and remains unique among the UFC’s current roster of champions because of his relative lack of takedown defense. However, even against wrestlers such as Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen, Silva has been able to secure impressive victories off his back thanks to his ever-improving jiu-jitsu game.
Despite the length of his title reign and the list of vanquished opponents, fans refused to take to Silva. Part of the problem was his erratic performances, with fights against Patrick Cote and Thales Leites becoming grim stalemates as Silva refused to engage against overly defensive challengers. Worse was his absurd display against Damian Maia in which he indulged in mocking antics that had UFC president Dana White threatening to cut him.
While most in America think of his epic comeback submission win over Sonnen or his matrix-esque standup en route to destroying Forrest Griffin in a rare light heavyweight outing, in his home country the fight that put him on the map was his defense against Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 on Feb. 11, 2011. It was what many Brazilians called “The Fight of the Century.”
To fans outside Brazil, Belfort is something of an also-ran; a personable, charismatic challenger who repeatedly choked when it came time to grab the brass ring. However, in Brazil, Belfort’s fame allowed him to become a genuine crossover star. Soares believes this fame can be traced to two things: Belfort’s turbulent life and his natural charisma.
“He’s a celebrity because he’s done so much (in the sport),” Soares said, “plus he comes across well on interviews and knows how to market himself."
Although other Brazilian fighters have been more successful than Belfort, they were nowhere near as well known in Brazil as he was.
This all changed with UFC 126, with Belfort challenging Silva for the middleweight title. In a moment of perfect synergy, the UFC had secured a new television deal in Brazil. An audience of millions watched Silva brutally knock out Belfort with an inspired front kick to the face. After a lifetime in Belfort’s shadow back home, Silva had become a superstar in Brazil overnight.
“Anderson Silva’s career was really catapulted to the next level after the Vitor Belfort fight, without a doubt,” Soares said.
Fresh off that fight, Silva was given the headline spot when the UFC made its long-awaited return to Brazil with UFC Rio, an event Soares called “incredible, with MMA finally back where it all started.”
At the center of the success of the event was Silva, who, after being mobbed by fans throughout the week, went on to effortlessly defend his title against the last man to defeat him, Yushin Okami. In many ways it was a victory that brought everything full circle for a champion who, after so many defenses, was now being appreciated, not just by his home supporters but by fans across the world.
Now, blue-chip endorsements are flooding in, with Silva being asked to endorse the likes of Nike, Burger King and Brazil’s Corinthians Football Club.
And at the heart of it all is the title he won five years ago.