Once a dominant fighter, Anderson Silva is now truly a great one
Chael Sonnen opened on the attack, keeping Anderson Silva on his back early
Silva won in the second, delivering a kick to the body and shots to the head
Silva has now won 16 consecutive fights, including 10 defenses of his title
We thought we knew what made Anderson Silva great. We had no idea.
We watched him destroy opponent after opponent ever since his UFC debut six years ago. Not one of his first 11 bouts in the organization that's home to the world's elite mixed martial artists even made him break a sweat. The rangy Brazilian with a dancer's fluidity and a matador's killer instinct outclassed everyone, even when he appeared to be barely trying. We thought we were seeing greatness.
We weren't. We were seeing dominance.
Greatness would not come until two summers ago, when Silva stepped into the octagon with Chael Sonnen. The UFC middleweight champion won that fight, too, but it wasn't the day at the beach his fights had been to that point. Silva took a beating from the loquacious Sonnen, a smothering wrestler who surprised the sport's greatest striker with his fisticuffs acumen. For the better part of 23 minutes, Anderson was on his back beneath a Chael blanket, eating punches and elbows. But then he pulled a rabbit out of a hat, clamping on a triangle armbar that elicited the tapout and ensured that the championship belt would remain his.
Some saw that brutal bout as tarnishing the shiny brass on Anderson's well-worn title strap. I was in that camp, even going so far as to ultimately drop Silva below the always-dominant light heavyweight champ, Jon Jones, in SI.com's pound-for-pound fighter rankings. But upon further reflection, I now get that in watching "The Spider" tough it out, we were seeing his true preeminence emerge.
Silva gave us an even more brilliant display of his supremacy on Saturday night, when he once again withstood Sonnen's best shot and, in the blink of an eye, seized a thrilling victory. This time, in the main event of UFC 148 in Las Vegas, the end came in the second round, after Silva had spent the entirety of the first -- all but the fight's first four seconds -- on his back. Chael got his takedown, swiftly passed Silva's guard to allow him to unleash an attack without serious concern for submission defense, and eventually moved to full mount, the ground game's most dominant position. Although Sonnen landed only a few damaging blows among the 76 strikes recorded during the five minutes by the UFC's official statistician, FightMetric, Silva was credited with zero strikes. One cageside judge scored it a 10-8 round.
Not so great for Silva.
But then the champ came out for the second, stopped a Sonnen takedown try, stopped another and then another. And when Chael -- perhaps frustrated, perhaps fatigued, perhaps simply reckless -- tried a spinning back-fist and tripped over his own feet as his wild attack missed its target, Silva's killer instinct kicked in. With Sonnen seated against the cage, Anderson wasted no time before delivering a hard knee to the body that seemed to drain the life out of the challenger. Chael did manage to rise to his feet briefly after taking several hard shots to the head, but a Silva right hand put him right back on the canvas, where the champ swiftly and efficiently finished the job.
So now it's twice that Silva has reached down deep. And ascended to heights even he had not yet seen in the annals of his sport.
Now what? There doesn't appear to be a middleweight this side of West Linn, Oregon, who can give the 37-year-old Silva a fight. Will the 185-pound champion -- now the winner of 15 straight UFC bouts, including 10 title defenses -- next find himself in the cage with one of the UFC's other pound-for-pound stars, 170-pounder Georges St-Pierre or 205-pound manchild Jon Jones? Highly unlikely. When GSP is ready to fight following his recovery from knee surgery, he will return to a welterweight division with a logjam at the top, from interim champion Carlos Condit to next-in-line contenders Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks, and eventually even suspended Nick Diaz as well. He has plenty on his plate. As for Jones, he has only Dan Henderson on his dance card, and if he passes that test the light heavyweight belt holder will be available. But would Silva pack on the pounds necessary to take on the man who, after Saturday's fight, tweeted: "Man my man Anderson Silva went to work tonight, consistently amazing." My man? That and the men's pre-fight hug at cageside suggest that we won't be seeing a Silva-Jones superfight.
Dana White, even being the uber-promoter that he is, isn't going to push for Silva to switch weight divisions. "I don't ever tell guys whether to move up or move down," said the UFC president. "Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. I'm in awe of this guy."
So is Chael Sonnen. Reluctantly. After the fight he was uncharacteristically a man of few words, saying of his opponent, "He's a true champion, man."
SI Now: Make or break year for Danica Patrick
SI Now: Russell Simmons on the benefits of meditation for athletes