The careful business of appreciating Silva
December, 11, 2012
By Chuck Mindenhall
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesDo we underappreciate Anderson Silva, or does Dana White underestimate our appreciation of Anderson Silva? Can’t be both, can it?
White has pointed out to the media that the media doesn’t grasp how great Silva is. Not like he does, anyway. He has reiterated this idea on occasion, but his mystification grows with every Silva victory. That’s pretty reasonable. Silva is 16-0 in the UFC. The New England Patriots were 16-0 in the regular season in 2007. People had little trouble grasping that tyrannical bit of greatness (except for the 53 guys from East Rutherford who defeated them in the Super Bowl that season).
Silva’s 16-0, however, in a sport where four-ounce gloves are meant to protect the knuckles more than a man’s consciousness, is vastly underappreciated. He isn’t being treated as the juggernaut he is, and this can’t help but feel like a travesty. The question (accusation) seems to be: Don’t we see that Silva is a living, active legend on an impossible, unparalleled run?
Why can’t we canonize him like proper historians? (Crudely translated: This is a pay-per-view company.)
That’s a tricky business because, you know, what’s the proper way to treat a juggernaut in a relatively nascent, particularly niche-y sport? Is it a matter of rose petals being thrown in his path? There are puff pieces on Silva galore. He appears at the top of any sane person’s pound-for-pound list. There is blind adherence to Silva’s myth from Brazil to the U.S. and beyond.
None of that is enough for casual transcendence, unfortunately.
So maybe it’s something more basic. Something like Silva not having the charisma to match his fighting (and if charisma didn’t matter, there’d be no Chael Sonnen on next season’s “The Ultimate Fighter”). Silva rarely openly challenges anybody, and he seldom talks smack. There’s nothing larger than life about his shyness. That he doesn’t speak very good English for a North American-based company doesn’t help, either.
Does that affect what we see in the cage? No, but it affects everything we're looking at before the cage doors swing open. In any case, fans and media aren’t talking about Silva as a once-in-a-lifetime privilege -- as a world-beating, invulnerable, Mike Tyson pre-Buster Douglas era machine that will mow down all comers -- to White’s satisfaction.
And that’s tricky too because ... is Silva taking on all comers?
People are careful not to say it too loud out of respect for the guy they’re essentially disrespecting, but the hunch is maybe not. Behind closed doors he may be one thing, but in the public eye, he does appear a little finicky. “Finicky” doesn’t easily fit with the kind of appreciation White’s talking about (after all, we didn’t elect to see Silva fight Stephan Bonnar, they did). Silva didn’t want to rematch Sonnen (but was persuaded). He didn’t want to fight Jon Jones (but will). He doesn’t want to fight Chris Weidman (and won’t, anytime soon). Like it or not, this kind of reluctance causes people to criticize him.
Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty ImagesDemian Maia, left, is one of two fighters to go the distance with Anderson Silva -- and he paid a heavy price doing it.
Yet in the end, because he does and (probably) will end up fighting all comers, criticizing him in itself is superficial. Besides, the people he does fight get blown up. Only two guys in 16 UFC fights have gone the distance with "The Spider" -- Demian Maia (in Silva's bizarre moment) and Thales Leites (in his forgettable moment). Everyone else tapped, bled, faltered or needed smelling salts. He beat Rich Franklin twice, he beat Sonnen twice. He choked out Dan Henderson. He punted Vitor Belfort like it was fourth-and-long.
And he’s done it to bigger guys, too. Bonnar, for instance, who was unnaturally big. He simultaneously punched and spooked Forrest Griffin in Philadelphia. He opened a chasm on James Irvin that could produce echoes.
Silva is special. And that’s easy to see. I am sitting here writing about him because I appreciate him as a near impossibility in a brutal sport of too many possibilities. It’s hard to fathom somebody being that good. That’s why it doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to envision him beating the likes of Jon Jones.
Would beating Jones boost his appreciation?
Now there’s an idea. And in that way, White has the power to bring us up to his level of Anderson Silva appreciation.