There is no doubt that Anderson Silva is a great mixed martial artist. It’s hard to even argue that he is one of the greatest of all time. However, has he been the beneficiary of perhaps the most unimpressive list of title challengers in history, or is it just that he was that much better than everyone else? A closer look reveals the former may be the answer.
When Chris Weidman shocked the world by defeating Anderson Silva at UFC 162, he did what many thought nobody in the world could do. He beat the fighter most considered to be the pound-for-pound king in MMA. And with 16 straight wins inside the Octagon, and 17 overall, it is hard to argue with those who put him up there. No matter the talent level, winning that many consecutive fights is no small task.
But we need to be careful when giving too much credit for beating a string of opponents who are, for the most part, substandard championship level competition. Much like a team that wins a Final Four in college basketball without ever playing a top ten team to get there, the same can be argued when looking at Silva’s resume. Sure there are some very talented fighters on his list of victims, but not many are going to the hall of fame. And those who are were far from being at that level when they fought him.
Obviously, this opinion will draw some strong disagreement, so let’s take a look at the names that have challenged Anderson Silva in the UFC. Following his debut destruction of Chris Leben, Silva got his shot at the title against Rich Franklin. Franklin has had a great career in the UFC. A borderline hall of fame career. But in starting his run of good fortune, Anderson Silva caught Franklin on a clear falling off point in his career. Perhaps a little bit too much of the older type fighter that no longer succeeds in the UFC, Silva destroyed Franklin to take his belt. The rematch would go the same way.
Since the first fight, Rich Franklin has gone a very pedestrian 7-5, picking up very few meaningful victories ever again. Although he has had a great career, by the time they first met, it was clear Rich Franklin’s best days were behind him.
His first two defenses are much more of the same. Travis Lutter and Nate Marquardt were both very solid fighters with good records. However, in what will become a running theme, neither were at the top of their games at this point, and posed little real threat to Silva. Lutter would fight three more times, losing twice, and Marquardt has gone a very pedestrian 7-5.
Following another fight with Franklin, Silva took on perhaps his biggest threat in Dan Henderson. Even though he had lost his last fight with Quinton Jackson, and was no spring chicken at 37, he was expected to give Silva a stern test. However, as the second round closed, Silva was able to slap on a rear-naked choke forcing Henderson to tap out.
Following the quality win over Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva had a series of fights against guys who were not exactly some of the most dangerous names in the sport. He moved up in weight class to fight both James Irvin and Forrest Griffin in fights that were gross mismatches, with few expecting anything different. Even Griffin, who was himself a champion, offered little hope of giving Silva a good fight. Feather-fisted and too slow for Silva, a big heart was never going to win Griffin that fight.
Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia all were perhaps the best options available at the time, but not top threats to any title.
After his fight with Maia, Silva met Chael Sonnen, the man who came the closest to beating him during his historic run. If not for a last minute let down, Sonnen would have claimed the title back at UFC 117. And once again, despite an ability to hype a fight like no other, Chael Sonnen is not much more than an above average fighter with not a ton on his resume to suggest he is truly elite. After escaping with the win, Silva would rematch Sonnen and once again win, after being dominated in the first round.
His last two successful defenses would see him avenge an earlier loss in his career to Yushin Okami, as well as a resurgent Vitor Belfort. Belfort has long been one of the most talented fighters in all of MMA. Though he has been more than capable of laying an egg throughout his career, he must be respected, and is capable of beating anyone at any time. The now legendary front kick by Silva ended Belfort’s attempt at the title. It was certainly a nice win, and along with the Dan Henderson fight, is probably the best name on his resume.
Okami has been a good hand for the UFC and presented a fair challenge to Silva. Not exactly Ali-Foreman, but it was a nice win nonetheless.
His last fight before losing to Weidman was again contested at light heavyweight, where he took on an overmatched Stephan Bonnar. A late replacement, it’s hard to find fault with the choice in opponents, but Bonnar was beaten well before the opening bell.
When Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva in shocking fashion, many were saying that it was a fluke and that a rematch would certainly go differently. After all, as one of the greatest ever, it is hard to imagine anyone beating Anderson Silva. But when you look at the resume, it just doesn’t hold up. Only Henderson and Belfort were really able to hang near the top of any division after they fought Silva. That is a clear indication that the competition faced was either well past their prime, or never were really all that elite to begin with.
When his career is over, Anderson Silva will be remembered as an all time great. But if you look at it more closely, it is obvious that smoke and mirrors had a lot to do with it.