UFC fans have been griping in earnest about the "in-ring performance" of Anderson Silva since April of last year, and the naysayingest of naysayers have been grumbling since October of 2008. "He doesn't advance the action," they rage. "He stalls and looks like he doesn't even want to be in there," they mope.
Time and again, the vast majority of the viewing audience rants and raves about how Anderson Silva is a mockery of a fighter, a no-good coward, or some similar nonsense. Yet, time and again, he comes back and dominates and the same complainers come back, hoping someone beats him. In pro wrestling terminology, this is textbook "heel champion" behavior, and a formula that has worked for years.
What no one ever seems to mention is that Silva is out-of-this-world good. He's a shining talent that only comes along once in a generation. Amazingly, UFC currently has both Silva and Georges St. Pierre, who are more than likely the greatest MMA fighters of all time in their respective weight classes (granted, it's a short history, but still). The difference between the two is that Georges St, Pierre believes in respecting the UFC fans and his opponents. He engages and beats them soundly, usually putting on a great show, because he's a joy to watch. Silva, on the other hand, has no hang-ups like respect to worry about, and for my money, the end result is endlessly more enjoyable and his last several fights, where he flaunted this flagrant disrespect for everyone and everything, have resulted in some of my favorite MMA fights of all time.
Silva reminds me a lot of Barry Bonds: an unparalleled talent whose abrasive attitude and conceit rub fans and media the wrong way and have robbed both men of the consensus credit that they unquestionably deserve. (By the way, I'm leaving out any PED discussion on purpose, both because every athlete in the world is a user, and because the argument is stupid.)
Watching Silva fight anyone else in his weight class is mind-blowing. He's so far out of everyone else's league that he chooses to amuse himself by showboating, running circles around his opponents, darting effortlessly away from their attempts at strikes, and forcing them to advance the action. And why shouldn't they? "I'm the champ, and you're the one who has to beat me. So beat me. I dare you." Silva's fights are the closest thing in shootfighting that I've ever seen approach art. He's Miles Davis in there.
If anyone doubts Silva's ability, look no further than his fight against Forrest Griffin. Silva, fighting out of his weight class as "punishment" for his performances, faced off against one of the most universally beloved figures in UFC history, and just to prove to everyone that he's every bit as good as you think he is, decimated and embarrassed Griffin. During the course of the fight, the ravenous UFC crowd transitioned from booing Silva at the top of their lungs to cheering him as one and screaming for Griffin's blood. Griffin was so humiliated by Silva that he sprinted from the cage rather than face the post-fight interview and the now-unfriendly crowd.
Now, back in his own weight class, Silva is bored and unchallenged again, so he's gone back to his grandstanding and head games. And why should anyone blame him? He's been bored with his weight class for years and expressed a vehement interest in boxing a match against Roy Jones Jr. Unfortunately, Dana White would have no part of it. On Saturday, Silva faced Demian Maia, a fine fighter but nowhere near Silva's league. Silva did what Silva does, effortlessly took the first three rounds, then played keepaway from a frustrated Maia for the final two rounds and won the unanimous decision. Dana White claims to be livid and "embarrassed" by the performance, going so far as to have left ringside in the fourth round because he was "annoyed" by Silva.
I wish I could say that I understand Dana's compulsion to side with the moronic fans decrying Silva's antics. The harsh truth of the situation is that Silva is an unstoppable shooting star of a fighter who isn't going to be around forever. If I were Dana/UFC, I would talk up how ungodly good the guy is in interviews, on television, in promos, on commercials, on commentary during the fights, everything I could, because it's all true. UFC has proved time and again that it's easy to condition the fans to embrace your viewpoint if you push it hard enough. I have no idea why they wouldn't want to in this situation, unless they really are in the pro wrestling mindset that a strong heel champ will draw the most money for them. It's not a bad idea, but I don't know if I can give White that much credit. They aren't going to find anyone who can beat him, and it's clear that Silva doesn't care even a little bit about what his employers or viewing public think of him.
UFC is clearly hoping for a superfight between Silva and GSP, which should be off the charts. But beyond that, MMA fans really need to stop complaining and start appreciating, because you're not going to see many fighters this good in your lifetime. Appreciate the master's art.