Saturday, 24 July 2010

Anderson Silva - Legends of the Cage

This article was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine. Just for details I wrote this article back in 2009 before Anderson fought Demian Maia.

In this day and age of internet highlight reels and the mixed martial arts revolution it’s arguably a lot easier than it once was to build a reputation. String a few knockouts together, loop them over some heavy metal and finish with a black and white slow motion shot and you’re on your way. The YouTube generation elevated Kimbo Slice to stardom after a few backyard brawls but the facade of his highlight reel toughness soon fell when he was knocked out by Seth Petruzelli. 

It may be easier to make a name these days, but it remains true that legends will be remembered for their actions in battle rather than the hype that surrounds them. It is very rare that a fighter comes along who changes preconceptions about the sport and forces people to rethink. Every sport has its pioneers, who changed the face of their discipline and made the impossible possible. One such athlete is Anderson Silva.

Anderson Da Silva was born on April 14th 1975 in Sao Paulo Brazil but moved north to Curitiba when he was just five years old. His mother was struggling to raise him in Sao Paulo so his aunt and uncle took him back to Curitiba to give him a better chance. Even to this day Silva is forever in debt to this generosity and always thanks his aunt and uncle for giving him the morals and standards that he lives his life by. Anderson was, by all accounts, a very active child who loved superheroes and comic books and famously once jumped off a lamp post, trying to fly, after watching Superman.

It wasn’t until Anderson turned 14 that he began his path to martial arts greatness. Silva is a lifelong Bruce Lee fan and he is quick to admit that one of the main reasons for starting training martial arts was to be like “a combination of Bruce Lee and the superheroes.” He had studied Taekwondo periodically but it was by chance that he found Muay Thai. He accompanied his cousin Elson Cardoso to Muay Thai classes and the young Silva began absorbing all that he saw. His cousins taught him a few moves and Anderson was very quick to pick them up and perfect them.

Silva would go on to collect a black belt in Taekwondo, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in later life, but it was his love of Muay Thai that would help create the monster that he would become. Over the coming years, Anderson Silva would go on to win numerous Muay Thai honours and even began fighting as a professional boxer in 1998 but it was a local promotion that first gave Anderson a chance to compete in the sport that he would go on to change so much.

Meca: World Vale Tudo was truly a grassroots promotion in Brazil. Fighters from all over the world went on to compete in that promotion that was run by the founders of the legendary Chute Boxe camp Rudimar Fedrigo and Rafael Cordeiro. Fighters like the Rua brothers, Wanderlei Silva and Cyborg Santos all honed their craft at Meca, and all went on to compete at the highest level. It was during this time that Anderson’s relationship with the Chute Boxe camp developed and he would go on to become one of the integral members. Chute Boxe had a reputation of breeding killers, their training sessions were legendarily tough and all their fighters fought with a level of intensity that was unmatched.

Anderson, although losing his MMA debut to Luiz Azeredo, went on to win all the rest of his fights for Meca and attracted the attention of the Japanese promotion Shooto. Silva would conquer then undefeated middleweight champion Hayato Sakurai and, in doing this, acquired both the attention and the respect of the Japanese public. One year later in 2002 Anderson Silva was once again preparing to fight on Japanese soil but for a different promotion.

Pride Fighting Championships had been the home to some of the most memorable fights in recent years and a number of Silva’s Chute Boxe team mates had been making big waves for the promotion. Wanderlei Silva had been amazing Japanese fans with his ferocity and berserker like attitude for a while and it was interesting to see how Anderson Silva took a different approach to MMA. Anderson fought his fights like a surgeon, picking the perfect time to destroy his opponents with pinpoint accuracy. His first fight in Pride saw him take on Lion’s Den veteran Alex “Brazilian Killer” Steibling who was coming in with tremendous momentum. It took Silva just 83 seconds to land a series of powerful shots and a head kick that just about took Steibling’s head clean off. The doctors stopped the fight due to a series of nasty cuts that Steibling has sustained during this encounter. Anderson would continue to fight for Pride losing only twice in two years but his victories were some of the most resounding ever seen. He stopped former UFC titleholder Carlos Newton with a beautifully timed flying knee and received offers from many promotions all over the world.

Anderson Silva left Chute Boxe in 2003 to form the Muay Thai Dream Team and it wasn’t the only significant move he would make. Silva made the trip to the UK where he soundly defeated Lee Murray to win the Cage Rage middleweight title. He would defend that belt 3 times but it was his third defence that ignited the world of mixed martial arts in debate. Silva had stopped UFC veterans Jorge Rivera and Curtis Stout but it was a fight with wrestling standout Tony “The Freak” Fryklund that he would truly showcase his amazing skills.

It was a typically dominant performance from Silva as he out struck Fryklund with a Muay Thai master class of knees, kicks and punches. Just two minutes into the fight Anderson backed his opponent up and then threw a hooking elbow uppercut that knocked Fryklund clean out. The fight world had never seen anything like the conclusion to that fight and I challenge anyone to watch that fight and not be amazed by it. Anderson Silva was proving that when he said “I believe I can do things that other people think are impossible”, he truly meant it.

With Silva’s fierce reputation and his impressive 15-4 record it was only a matter of time before he garnered the interest of Dana White and the UFC. Anderson Silva came into the UFC with a reputation known to the mixed martial arts community but not necessarily to the American fight audience. He was put straight into a main event slot on UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5 against tough brawler Chris Leben. The TUF graduate had been stirring the pot even before the fight began saying that Anderson would get his jaw broken and then retreat back to Japan where the competition was easier. Leben had tremendous momentum and, coming into the clash on June 28th 2006, was a favourite to win in the eyes of the American public.

As he so often had done in the past, Silva made the improbable seem easy as he demolished Leben in just 49 seconds. Chris Leben had never been stopped in sixteen professional fights but was no match for the sniper-like Silva. Anderson threw 19 shots during that fight and connected with every single one, finishing off with a huge knee from the clinch that sent Leben tumbling to the ground. Silva later went on to say he taught Chris Leben “a lesson in respect” following his pre fight interview trash talking. One thing, however, was clear. Anderson Silva had arrived in the UFC.

The following weeks saw a poll on the UFC website to see who dominant champion Rich Franklin should face next. The poll was merely done to gauge public interest but the UFC saw such phenomenal support for Silva that they were moved to put that match up together. Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin would square off at UFC 64 in October 2006. Franklin was coming in off a convincing victory over David Loiseau and had only lost once in his career to future UFC champion Lyoto Machida. Even coming off his demolition of Chris Leben, Silva was still a huge underdog in the eyes of the bookmakers due to the dominance that Franklin had shown in the UFC. Nobody was prepared for just how easy Anderson Silva would make his craft seem.

He picked Franklin apart with strikes and when the champion looked to move to the inside, Silva delivered one of the most painful demonstrations of the Muay Thai clinch the fight world had ever seen. Anderson peppered the ribs of Franklin with knees from every angle until it was clear his foe was hurt. Silva once again sought the clinch and Franklin instinctively put an arm down to try and cover his hurt ribs. Silva fired a knee straight to the head of Franklin which broke his nose in several places. It was all Franklin could do to stagger backwards and take more big shots before the referee stepped in. Anderson fell to the floor in tears. The realisation of the dream that had started on the streets of Curitiba had finally happened.

Over the next few months Anderson Silva went on to join the fearsome Black House team, whose ranks included Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and the Nogueira brothers, and looked to defend his title. Silva would submit BJJ black belt Travis Lutter, brutally knock out Pancrase champion Nate Marquart and once again defeat Rich Franklin in his next three fights. With each performance Silva set the bar higher and higher. The flurry that he finished Rich Franklin within their rematch remains one of the most brilliant technical displays of striking in mixed martial arts history. When the UFC acquired Pride, it was clear that the already heaving ranks of the company would be further expanded by new talent. Of all the acquisitions that the UFC made, one stood out as a threat to Anderson Silva’s belt.

Dan Henderson was an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler who had seen been fighting MMA for nearly eleven years. He had gained fame as the only man in Pride history to hold two consecutive title belts in different weight categories and was coming from Pride having knocked out Anderson’s former team mate Wanderlei Silva. Dan Henderson and Anderson Silva were matched up in a unification bout at UFC 82: Pride of a Champion. Henderson seemed to have a lot of tools that would give Silva, or indeed anyone, a lot of problems. He had knock out power in his punches and was a ferocious wrestler and for the first round of their title bout he was able to take Silva down and control him. At the end of the round everyone couldn’t believe that Silva had lost a round in the UFC. The only person not worried by it was Silva himself. He once again proved his pedigree by picking his time to strike, rattling Henderson with powerful punches and knees before taking him down and securing a rear naked choke in the second round. Silva was literally on top of the world. He was undefeated in the UFC and widely regarded as one of the best pound for pound fighters in history but the challenges were only going to get bigger from this point.

Silva’s next fight would be at 205lbs against knock out artist James Irvin. Irvin had a fierce reputation and a reel of explosive finishes and Silva had taken this fight at a higher weight category to test himself against the bigger stronger fighters in the UFC. The fight lasted just over a minute as Silva caught a kick that Irvin threw and duly countered with a piston-like right hand that sent his opponent reeling to the canvas in obvious pain.

No-one in the arena looked more shocked than James Irvin as Silva reigned down shots to finish the fight. Anderson had destroyed a much bigger and stronger adversary with his devastating striking and following on from this would go on to defeat Patrick Cote and Thales Leites at Middleweight to defend his crown. Silva broke Royce Gracie’s record for most consecutive wins in the UFC with the Leites fight and, although he drew criticism for his cautious performance, it was clear that he was capable of stepping in the cage with anyone the UFC could throw at him.

Certainly the biggest test for Anderson Silva would take place at UFC 101 in August of this year. Anderson once again moved up to light heavyweight to take on former champion Forrest Griffin. Griffin’s heart has never been questioned and the sheer size and power that he presented were going to create unique problems for Silva. Fans of the UFC and Anderson Silva were getting used to expecting the unexpected but the shockwaves that were sent through the fight community after this performance were colossal. In one of the most amazing displays in living memory Anderson Silva destroyed Forrest Griffin in a little over three minutes.

Griffin could not get anywhere near Silva who fought half of the fight with his hands by his waists and dodged attacks simply with footwork and head movement. Forrest, and the rest of the world, looked bewildered by this display. Anderson eventually dispatched his adversary with a jab as he walked backwards avoiding all attacks coming his way. The fans and critics alike were speechless as Silva had once again made the extraordinary seem ordinary. It was a performance that perfectly summed up Anderson Silva. He will always be the Muay Thai sniper, dispatching his pray with laser precision and making the illogical logical.

Anderson Silva has stated his desire to retire from the sport in 2010 and, at present, has three more fights remaining on his current UFC contract. His next fight is speculated to be against former Black House team mate Vitor Belfort but, as yet, this has not been confirmed. Silva will always be remembered as a legend in the sport of MMA because of both his achievements and his unique approach. Nobody can deny the influence that Silva has had but perhaps the greatest accolade that can be paid to him is that he has indeed become the combination of Bruce Lee and superhero that he once dreamed of being as a boy in Curitiba.

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