Reporters pick top moments from Anderson Silva’s legacy of UFC greatness


Anderson Silva‘s Fight Night main event against Uriah Hall on Saturday is likely his last bout with the UFC, but that doesn’t mean the all-time great is planning to stop fighting altogether.

“Probably this is my last fight in the UFC,” Silva told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “But let’s go see the result.”

Silva wants to see what happens against Hall in Las Vegas before deciding on his immediate future. Silva is 1-6-1 in his past eight, so would another loss convince him to call it quits? Would an impressive win persuade him to keep fighting for another promotion?

If Silva does decide to walk away, his legacy would include a 16-fight win streak, the longest in UFC history, and a scrapbook filled with memorable performances.

ESPN’s MMA reporters relate their favorite memories from a Hall of Fame career.

A heavy challenge

Phil Murphy: My favorite Anderson Silva memory is a little out of left field, admittedly. Silva was two years into his middleweight dominion, finishing every UFC opponent inside of two rounds. On July 19, 2008, four months after defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 82, Silva was booked up a weight class on a cable card against former heavyweight James “Sandman” Irvin, who was 14-4 with one no contest at the time.

Imagine Israel Adesanya facing Anthony “Rumble” Johnson at 205 pounds in a non-pay-per-view main event weeks after a major fight. It would never happen.

Yet it did 12 summers ago. Silva entered as a heavy favorite, but questions persisted about how the power of “The Spider” would translate up a weight class against a far thicker opponent. Those were answered in 61 seconds. Silva caught a body kick and, in rhythm, cracked a right cross that dropped Irvin and began the finishing sequence, a barrage of right hands that put the Sandman out cold.

This was the peak of my MMA evangelism efforts — inviting over friends who had no previous experience with the sport to watch the fights. Often, there was a lack of adequate appreciation of a technical finish or surprising upset. That was not the case when Silva knocked out Irvin. Involuntary profanity from the uninitiated filled my living room. Silva was someone mainstream sports fans could understand. And for him to put on that display up 20 pounds from his natural weight was truly special. He was unique, and that night proved it.

Look, Forrest, no hands

Brett Okamoto: What is the single most demoralizing thing a fighter can do to an opponent during a contest? It has to be dropping his hands, right? Walking forward, toward an opponent, with his hands down, encouraging that opponent to even try to hit him. I mean, sometimes we see a fighter drop his hands to taunt an opponent, but usually that behavior ends immediately when they’re within range. And there are fighters who naturally drop their hands, but it’s conducive to their style and they do it all the time — and again, they’re very careful about what range they do that at.

When Anderson Silva fought Forrest Griffin on Aug. 8, 2009, he walked forward with his hands down simply because he knew he could. He knew Griffin couldn’t hurt him. He was so much better than the former light heavyweight champion, he could walk forward with his hands down and eventually knock him out with a jab. That was the defining moment for me, when it came to Silva’s ability not only to beat his opponents, but toy with them. Honestly, that night in Philadelphia is one of my favorite memories in combat sports, period.

Getting the final word against an all-time talker

Marc Raimondi: The Anderson Silva era was on the brink. Coming off a disastrously boring performance against Demian Maia four months earlier, Silva was getting browbeaten by Chael Sonnen — his loudest, most abrasive rival — for the better part of five rounds. It was Aug. 7, 2010, UFC 117. Silva had been UFC middleweight champion — a dazzling one, for that matter — for four years at that point. But his reign — seemingly — was about to come to an end. Sonnen was using his oppressive wrestling and sneaky boxing skills to dominate Silva like Silva had never been dominated before. To make matters worse, this was everything Sonnen said he would do.

Sonnen, perhaps the greatest trash-talker in MMA history, sold the heck out of the fight by saying Silva wasn’t nearly as good as people thought he was, in a sometimes-clever, sometimes-crass way. Ironically, Sonnen’s barbs helped raise Silva’s stock after that awful fight against Maia, helping make Silva — and Sonnen — a legitimate pay-per-view draw. Silva vs. Sonnen was one of the hottest rivalries in MMA history and one of the most anticipated. And Sonnen was set to take Silva’s momentum and title away. With less than two minutes to go in the final round in Oakland, California, Sonnen was in total control. He had won every round and was on top of Silva, landing ground-and-pound. The result was a foregone conclusion. Sonnen, the UFC’s court jester, was about to become middleweight king. Silva, in pure desperation, threw up his legs to try to snare Sonnen in a triangle choke. It worked. Somehow. At 3:10 of the fifth round, Sonnen tapped out. Silva retained the title.

It’s an iconic moment, Silva snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the final minutes. It was also career-defining, allowing Silva to break through from dominant champion to mainstream star. The Sonnen rematch, two years later at UFC 148, was even bigger and Silva won that one, too, via second-round TKO.

A turning point for a Brazilian star

Ariel Helwani: So many moments to choose from. Ultimately, I’ll go with Anderson Silva’s incredible knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 on Feb. 5, 2011. The buildup to that fight just seemed different. It was Brazil’s past (Belfort) meeting its present (Silva), and it felt as though the country was finally treating Silva like the big deal that he was.

I recall the media attention for that fight feeling much different. The buzz in Las Vegas for that one was great and it culminated with the memorable faceoff at the weigh-ins, during which Silva posed with a Jabbawockeez mask. It’s one of my all-time favorite faceoffs.

And then, of course, in the fight itself, Silva pulled off one of the greatest knockouts ever when he landed that front kick to the face. What a KO. What a moment.

I recall talking to some friends who cover the sport in Brazil about it and they said that fight was a massive turning point for Silva in the country. Afterward, he became a true Brazilian sporting hero rather than just an MMA great because of whom he beat and how he did it.

An homage to ‘The Greatest’

Jeff Wagenheim: It was August 2013, just a few weeks after Anderson Silva had shockingly been dethroned as UFC middleweight champion by Chris Weidman, his first loss in 18 fights dating back 7½ years. Silva was visiting New York City, so we arranged for an interview at Sports Illustrated headquarters. He spoke briefly about his desire for a Weidman rematch, but Silva quickly spun the conversation toward his dream fight, a boxing match with Roy Jones Jr. “I like the style and movement,” he said. “Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali are the inspiration for my style of fighting.”

Silva’s eyes danced as he went on about Ali. You couldn’t miss the reverence, the awe. So after the interview was done, one of the magazine’s editors, who was in the studio with us, beckoned Silva and me to follow him. He took us down the hall to a floor-to-ceiling glass case filled with memorabilia of “The Greatest.” A long, white satin boxing robe. A pair of red Everlast gloves. An assortment of event programs and SI covers depicting Ali’s face. A large, framed color print of one of the most iconic photographs in sports history, the 1965 shot by SI’s Neil Leifer of Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston.

Silva stood mesmerized for several minutes, staring at the retrospective. He didn’t say a word. Maybe he couldn’t. He soaked in every detail as if he were uptown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Then he pulled out a smartphone and crouched low to find a good angle to snap a photo.

When Silva finally spoke, it was to ask if he could have his picture taken. He posed in front of the Ali display, thumbs up, a smile spread across his face.

Here was a man who at the time was the consensus GOAT of MMA, instantly transformed into a gleeful fan exalting at a shrine to his boyhood hero.

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