Imagine for a moment, being octagon-side back on October 13, 2012.
Anderson Silva had just made short work of Stephan Bonnar and earned himself a record 10th straight UFC title defence.
There was no one like him in all of mixed martial arts. Only Georges St. Pierre was comparable, but in late 2012 were few observers of the sport wouldn’t have listed Silva as the greatest fighter in UFC history.
The last eight years have not been kind to Silva’s legacy, though. As he prepares to walk to the octagon for – supposedly – one final fight on Saturday night against Uriah Hall, there are few who would still list him as the best of all time.
He’s one of the greats, but with only one win in his last eight fights and a couple of tests that revealed banned substances in his body, there are few who would put Silva above St. Pierre, Jon Jones or even Khabib Nurmagomedov on their list of all-time greats.
Silva, though, seems at peace.
“When you love your job, it doesn’t matter whether you fight or not, enjoy the moment,” Silva said on a UFC media call this week. “Do your best, that’s the secret about life: Love. Love your job. Love your life. Do your best.”
In interviews this week, Silva has suggested that Saturday’s matchup with Hall at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas won’t necessarily be his final bout, but that it will probably be his last time competing in the UFC.
That makes it feel a little premature to talk about the totality of Silva’s career. At 45 years old, though, the end of Silva’s days as a fighter are definitely a lot closer than the beginning.
And whether he should be remembered as the absolute best to ever fight inside a cage, he is still one of the most important figures in UFC history and a giant of the sport.
The front kick with which he knocked out Vitor Belfort in 2011 is one of MMA’s all-time highlights.
The Hail Mary triangle he used to submit Chael Sonnen in the dying seconds of their first battle in 2010 was one of the most dramatic finishes ever.
The way he danced around Forrest Griffin and then dropped him with a perfect right hand is as close to art as fighting gets.
In his prime, there was nobody like Silva. An 185-lb. champion who moved like a man who weight 40 pounless and possessed an arsenal of strikes and submissions that seemed to come from nowhere.
“In every single moment (when) I go inside the cage, I go inside the cage with my heart and I do my best and try to do something very special,” Silva said.
Those special moments didn’t just end in 2012. He lost his middleweight belt less than a year after beating Bonnar when he got too casual in the cage and was knocked out by Chris Weidman. In their rematch later that year, Silva suffered a horrific leg injury.
He was never quite the same, but Silva’s last five fights have all come against elite opponents. He lost a narrow decision to Michael Bisping in February 2016, but there’s a strong argument the fight should have been stopped when Silva dropped his opponent midway through the fight.
Then, Silva stepped in on extremely short notice and went up in weight to fight Daniel Cormier in July of that year. He lost, but even the fact that he was willing to step into the octagon against Cormier was wildly brave.
If February 2019, he went the distance with current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and his last fight, in May 2019, was against Jared Cannonier, who is incredibly close to a title shot right now.
He lost all those fights, but it’s not like Silva was taking on nobodies.
In general, it’s always nice when a fighter walks away while they’re still on top. We’re past that with Silva, unfortunately, but it’s also a little strange that even now, it feels like he might still have a few good fights left in him.
If Saturday truly is his final UFC fight, he will leave the promotion with an incredible legacy behind him. Maybe not the same legacy we once thought he’d have, but a legacy that’s worth celebrating.
UFC president Dana White hinted that we might not have seen the last of Nurmagomedov in the octagon.
The Dagestani lightweight champion officially retired last Saturday after defending his 155-lb. belt against Justin Gaethje and improving his record to 29-0. Nurmagomedov’s father and trainer died earlier this year and he said he’d made a promise to his mother that last weekend’s fight would be his last.
According to White, though, that might not necessarily be the case.
“I’ll tell you this and I haven’t told anybody this yet, but Khabib and I have been talking,” White said while appearing on the Zach Gelb Show. “He was completely emotional that night when he got through that fight. I have a feeling he might go for 30-0.”
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