Somewhere inside Broward County’s eight-story maximum security jail, Thiago Silva reflects on all that is, all that was, and all that will never be again.
The former UFC light heavyweight allegedly threatened his estranged wife at a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Jiu-Jitsu gym last Thursday, leading to a standoff with the Broward County SWAT team that ended with Silva’s peaceful surrender. Apart from his prompt release from the UFC, Silva faces multiple felony charges and was denied bond because he is deemed a flight risk.
An MMA staple since his inaugural bout at UFC 71, Silva has been the epitome of a championship-caliber fighter whose personal life hamstrung his in-ring potential. For every game-changing win there was an outside factor that tarnished his performance, whether it was a positive drug test, falsified urine sample, or an inability to make weight. In essence, his legacy consists of the vibrant tattoos that cover his body and the penalties that chipped away at his career.
Silva, however, is hardly the first fighter to face jail time. From pay-per-view headliners to amateurs working their way up, mixed martial artists are a byproduct of their surrounds and can have a bad day now and then, just like we all do from time to time. Whether we have one too many drinks or get into a scuffle, mistakes happen and we can either learn from them, as some fighters have, or we can careen down a path of poor choices.
In 2005, UFC light heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson spent a life-changing 15 months in a Swedish prison. Gustafsson, then 15-years-old, spent the previous three years getting into fights, many of which led to aggravated assault convictions.
“I was young, I was stupid,” Gustafsson told Expressen, a Swedish magazine. “I left a secure home for a quite precarious existence.” He credits MMA for turning his life around and nearly ten months removed from his sentence, Gustafsson is one step away from becoming UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.
Recently retired UFC veteran Chris Leben spent 20 days in a Portland, Ore. jail following a probation violation for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). The April 2008 arrest prevented Leben from an anticipated UFC 85 match with Michael Bisping.
Leben took his punishment in stride, stating that it gave him time to evaluate his life. He also utilized his time by teaching fellow inmates MMA techniques.
Although Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson was never convicted of charges stemming from his July 2008 arrest, he still served 72 hours in an Orange County jail. ‘Rampage’ led police on a chase while driving on the wrong side of a Costa Mesa, Calif. road. He was hit with four misdemeanor and one felony count for evading the police.
Luckily for Jackson, a plea deal took care of the felony charge and a judge dismissed the other charges citing all the community service he completed. Any personal issues Jackson faced at the time apparently have not affected him thereafter. The Bellator light heavyweight expects to face Christian M’Pumbu later this month at Bellator 10.
With a moniker like ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy,’ Tito Ortiz’ name precedes his actions. Long before he was charged with two counts of DUI, Ortiz pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges involving then-girlfriend Jenna Jameson.
The 2008 sentence included three years’ probation, 29 days in jail, and over 200 hours of community service. Jail time would have little effect on his career, however, as Ortiz would go on to compete in the UFC for over 14 years.
Earlier this year, The Ultimate Fighter 11 cast member Kyacey Uscola was found guilty domestic violence charges that could put him away for up to 13 years. A Sacramento Superior Court found the MMA veteran guilt of charges related to an attack on the mother of his child.
While Uscola’s sentence won’t come down until Feb. 14, a 2011 domestic violence arrest may hurt his chances of a lenient punishment. Despite the charge Uscola continues to compete, fighting with Utah-based promotion Showdown Fights last weekend.
As reprehensible as these crimes are, MMA fighters committing them are few and far between. For every Ortiz and Uscola who can’t control their erratic urges, there is a Gustafsson and Leben who grow from their experience.
For many, MMA is a way of unleashing pent-up aggression and many, like Gustafsson, acknowledge it as the reason for turning their lives around. Unfortunately, MMA’s violence is often associated with a fighter’s negative traits rather than its beneficial ones.
Silva’s alleged actions only hurt the progress MMA has made over the last decade and that is why Dana White’s choice to cut him was swift and unwavering. Regardless of alleged crimes UFC fighters commit in the future, their punishment will be severe as a way of protecting the ideal that violence should stay in the Octagon. This, and this alone, is the only positive that comes from Silva’s arrest.
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