Ornery but focused, Anderson Silva returns

'The Spider' is not in a talking mood as he attempts to regain title.

Friedemann Vogel/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It’s not easy being the greatest of all time. The weight of expectation is inherent in the very title. The pressure is in the eyeballs always watching, waiting either for another moment of magnificence or signs of a slip back toward the rest of the pack. There are demands on your time, your wallet, your patience. There are others always nipping at your heels, wanting what you have.

Anderson Silva may have lost the UFC middleweight title, but hasn’t lost the G.O.A.T. title yet, even if day-by-day, some begin to wonder if he has begun the slow fade. At 38 years old, he is still in good shape, still works out daily, still haunts the top of the UFC middleweight championship picture. But no one can be blamed for thinking what is otherwise a natural thought. Time passes, people age.

On one hand, he is Anderson Silva. On the other, he is 38, and the last time we saw him, he was telling us how "tired" he was of the whole thing.

So why should anything be different between him and Chris Weidman the second time around, just five months later? The first time, Silva lost the first round, and got knocked out in the second. At UFC 168, he is facing the same opponent, for the same belt, in the same arena.

Even if you’re only out to prove something to yourself, failure is still scalding.

The answer? We don’€™t know. And Silva? He ain’t really talking.

"Nothing is easy when you’€™re a UFC fighter," he said through his interpreter when I asked him if his previously discussed pressures of being the champion were alleviated by now taking on the challenger role.

It’s pretty obvious we already knew that, but Silva certainly wasn’t in the mood to elaborate on much of anything during a UFC 168 conference call. No matter what he was asked — whether it was about Weidman’s game plan changes, his own motivations, or camp adjustments — Silva didn’t effort much more than a single sentence, and he never once responded in English.

In fact, the most animated he got during the whole call was in discussing Georges St-Pierre’s recent exit from fighting, which, it should be noted, was quite similar to his own brief timeout.

One way to deflect pressure, after all, is to ignore what’s going on around you.

I found it interesting that of all the subjects he was asked about, that was the one that he decided warranted the deepest thought and most candid response. I’m not exactly sure what it says about his state of mind, but it must mean something, right?

I guess that’€™s one way to look at it. The other is that he’s so hyperfocused on the fight that he’d rather not talk about it. One way to deflect pressure, after all, is to ignore what’s going on around you. That’s the reason why athletes try to distract themselves with mindless diversions like movies and video games before game day or fight night. The more the future is out of mind, the less chance of blowing up the moment into something unmanageable. And to be perfectly clear, a lot rides on UFC 168 for Silva.

Sure, there’s the sponsors, and the money and all of the other things that come along with being at the top of your craft. But Silva came back for one reason, and it’s to prove he is still the best in the world. What happens if he fails? It won’t be the end of the world. He’ll still have an indelible legacy, but it will definitively prove he has been displaced from the top.

"I don’t think I have anything to prove to anyone, but I’m very motivated," he said at one point.

Even if you’re only out to prove something to yourself, failure is still scalding. The public perception of it is secondary noise, but noise nonetheless. After all, most people don’t look back fondly on Michael Jordan faltering to the finish line with the Washington Wizards, or Mike Tyson quitting his last bout mid-fight and saying his heart wasn’t in it anymore.

I don’t think I have anything to prove to anyone.

--Anderson Silva

No one knows how the end will come for Silva, or even when, but that is part of the lure of UFC 168. It is part of that ending, or a new beginning? It is the $60 (pay-per-view) question.

In discussing St-Pierre, Silva said that, "Everyone knows their time and their moment they need to retire or take a step away." That’€™s not entirely true though. Many athletes hang on way too long, chasing one last payday or a final moment of glory. It’s far more rare, but there are also others that leave before their time. Right now, Silva is somewhere on that scale, with the ability to slide it to the place of his liking.

But none of that is worth talking about for him. At least not right now.

"Everyone promotes the fight the way they want to promote it," he said. "I’m just here to fight."

That’s fine, since he’s always expressed himself best with actions and not words. Words can be taken out of context anyway. On Tuesday, he spoke but didn’t say anything. On Dec. 28, he won’t have to say a word. His result will deliver the message we are supposed to receive.