Commentary

How can UFC optimize Silva's potential?

Updated: August 10, 2009, 12:41 PM ET
By Jake Rossen | Sherdog.com

In flattening Forrest Griffin on Saturday, Anderson Silva needed only 3 minutes, 23 seconds to restore a reputation that was in considerable danger of collapsing.

In each of his past two fights -- against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote -- Silva delivered an interpretive dance of "The English Patient" when audiences were expecting "Rambo," fighting conservatively and disinterested in pushing his opponents when they shut down mentally.

Had he done that a third time, in a fight town as rabid as Philadelphia, fire extinguishers probably would've been involved.

[+] EnlargeForrest Griffin, Anderson Silva
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comAnderson Silva's one-round devastation of Forrest Griffin restored The Spider's rep as MMA's best fighter.

Instead, he looked every bit the pound-for-pound king that employer Dana White insists he is. Slipping Griffin's heavy (and slow) punches with ease, he countered beautifully, falling into a rhythm of evasion and attack that was like watching someone play an instrument. Where many fights become tumbling piles of arms and legs, this was beautifully efficient, truncated violence.

It was clean.

Silva's timing couldn't have been better, literally or figuratively: Just weeks after losing Fedor Emelianenko to Strikeforce -- which White, in an apparent audition for Mad magazine, has dubbed "Strikefarce" -- the UFC could've used some fresh evidence that they have the more active and talented all-time great in their fold. And they got it.

His talent no longer debatable, discussion now turns to what you do with someone this good that satisfies both business sense and fan expectations.

The options:

1. Keep Silva at 185 pounds. Talent exists that would satisfy his contractual obligations: Demian Maia, Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort.

The problem is that no one has really earned a title shot beyond Dan Henderson and possibly Nate Marquardt (who fights Maia on Aug. 29). If Silva's title defenses are now sinking into redundancy, it's time to reconsider his place there.

2. The road show: Random bouts that would attract money and crowds without making much contextual sense. Chief among these is the idea of opposing Georges St. Pierre in a meeting between two "pound-for-pound" greats that would have the adverse side effect of sacrificing one to build on the legacy of the other.

3. A permanent move to 205 pounds. According to Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, it's a proposal already under consideration by Silva, manager Ed Soares and White. Considering that Silva is a large middleweight who retains his speed in the heavier class, it doesn't appear to be at all unreasonable -- save for his disinterest in fighting friend and training partner Lyoto Machida. Considering Machida holds the title, it's a little like volunteering to climb Everest but insisting you'll stop just short of the peak. What's the point?

Whatever Silva does, it should be in the pursuit of something -- not some aimless, nomadic expedition through multiple weight classes, taking random fights whenever the UFC is in need of a one-off headliner. If he agrees to compete at 205 pounds, then that should be at the cost of his middleweight title and with the understanding he might potentially earn the right to face Machida. (Sadly, life gets a lot easier for everyone if Mauricio Rua happens to defeat Machida on Oct. 24.)

[+] EnlargeLyoto Machida
Jon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesAnderson Silva's toughest challenge might be putting friendship aside to fight Lyoto Machida.

If he remains at 185, it should be with the blueprint that he could conceivably air out the entire division -- not only Maia and Okami, but Cung Le and Gegard Mousasi, if those fighters become available.

There will probably be sporadic discussion of Silva facing heavyweights. (He's a solid 220 when not dieting down.) That's all it should be -- talk. There might've been some rational thinking in Silva facing a smaller heavyweight champion like Randy Couture, but expecting him to be competitive with the current era of comic-book-character heavyweights who have to cut to make 265 is a little sadistic.

There is value in Silva vacating his middleweight belt: With three more fights on his contract, not owning a title would free him at its conclusion, at which point he'd probably indulge in the desire to fight Roy Jones in boxing.

Those are all just fights, though. There's a lot you can do with the best fighter in the world: highlight-reel specials, sparring sessions with celebrities, tournament-style eliminations to decide his next contender and on and on. Silva is the springboard for a lot of inventive business: It's up to the UFC to use its imagination.

As for the inevitable press sparring over its marquee athlete and Strikeforce's: Backed by record pay-per-view subscribers and hours of basic cable television, White can anoint whomever he pleases with the "best ever" title, and it's likely to be digested without complication by the masses. (Emelianenko exists in a bit of a vacuum, at least until CBS enters the picture.) Footage like the Griffin knockout makes it real easy.

There will never be an absolute answer as to who's the better fighter, Emelianenko or Anderson Silva. But the UFC's machine guarantees that fewer and fewer people will even bother asking the question.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to ESPN.com. His byline has appeared in the New York Times, Wired.com, and numerous other outlets. He began covering mixed martial arts in 1998.