Despite losing twice to Chris Weidman, Anderson Silva has a celebrated legacy in MMA — what he’s accomplished will always remain in tact. Since joining the UFC in 2006, Silva’s name became rather synonymous with MMA. In this “Legacy” series on Anderson Silva, I revisit his storied career and his eminence in combat sports.
Silva was a Game Changer
Fans refer to him as the greatest of all time, and his ability in an octagon was as mystical as it was magical. Today, his techniques and strategies are employed throughout MMA. But it wasn’t always so, and perhaps the best part was Silva’s unexpected journey to superstardom.
Despite having a good career in various organizations, Silva was coming in 2-2 in his last 4 fights, and 5-3 in his last 8. If he had retired at any point before the UFC, he’d either be forgotten, or be known by hardcore fans as a B-level competitor.
The numbers showed inconsistencies, and yet he became the most consistent winner the UFC has ever seen.
Following his loss to Ryo Choan, just two years prior to joining the UFC, Silva was about to retire. Another star, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Big Nog), convinced Silva out of it and offered him assistance as well as guidance.
And despite being commended as the most technical fighter in Chute Boxe, Silva lacked the flash of his highly ranked teammates: Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. That is, the ultra-aggressive and power-oriented champions that can brawl, sprawl, and dominate while doing so.
The environment he was in, of course, influenced the way Silva fought. When a legendary camp has a specific style and the champions are successful with it, it’s bound to influence any fighter training with them. But just seeing the disparity in body types between Shogun, Wanderlei, and Anderson is enough to notice why the sprawl and brawl style may not be optimal.
Fighters that successfully sprawl and brawl are generally stockier and very explosive, while Anderson Silva was athletic, lengthy, and tall. Being shorter, stockier, and explosive meant a naturally stronger and lower center-of-gravity relative to a lengthy and tall athlete. For several technical reasons, the stalk and sprawl style is more suitable for the former body type rather than latter.
So Silva adapting this style meant less success with takedown defence — this made him spend a bulk of the matches grappling. In several bouts, because he was taken down, Silva was unable to display his technical genius in striking with counters (see his bout against Daiju Takese and Alexander Otsuka — the start of every round). At this point, he was a good MMA striker and fighter, not a great one.
Evolution Through Chris Leben:
When the match between Chris Leben and Anderson Silva was stopped, the fighters and fans in attendance were out of their seats. The color commentators were finding words on how to commend such a spectacular performance:
“I don’t think anyone thought that was going to happen”. — Joe Rogan
Now consider this: is it plausible that Silva didn’t know how the bout would go down? After all, it was one of Silva’s shortest and most impressive wins, with a near perfect accuracy. Sure, Silva probably came in with a game plan and strategy tailored for Leben, but the bout was so spectacular, and the strategy was so effective…
Is it possible that the Leben bout forever changed Anderson Silva — evolving him into the fighter who was then crowned the king of the middleweight division?
Keep in mind, Leben was a killer at the time — he was undefeated in the UFC (5-0) and with a record of 15-1. By then, Leben was already known as a tough fighter with a solid chin, and yet we saw Anderson Silva put on a near perfect performance. And guess what? His hands were consistently lower than usual.
Just before entering the UFC, Anderson Silva fought against Tony Fryklund, and you can see his hand positioning, posture, and strategy being different. Silva showed that he could pressure offensively with various mid-range strikes, with a dominant Thai Clinch — anyone’s name come to mind?
Shortly after, Silva delivered a reverse elbow on Fryklund. Impressive, but stylistically, not quite the Anderson Silva that’s referred to as the greatest of all time. After leaving Chute Boxe in 2003, Silva definitely showed more hints of potential greatness, such as in his first bout with Yushin Okami (despite being disqualified).
Bout Against Chris Leben:
Against Leben, Silva literally moved back the entire time and countered so effectively that he tumbled a fighter with a “granite chin”. I’ve explained Silva’s hand-positioning in detail, and having found such success against Leben, it seems quite behooving that he’d evolve into Anderson Silva 2.0 — the man with an unforgettable legacy.
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