(A brief glimpse of an offense. Photo courtesy of SI.com’s UFC 97 gallery.)
Since Anderson Silva doesn’t seem terribly interested in defending his UFC 97 performance against critics, and because his lack of English skills makes that difficult anyway, his manager, Ed Soares, has been doing it for him. Soares said in a recent interview that he didn’t think Silva’s fight with Leites was “a bad fight,” and even partially blamed the UFC for putting a “one-dimensional” fighter against the champ. He also made the case for Silva’s dominance by pointing out the lack of damage he took in the fight:
"After watching the fight on TV, I thought [Silva] fought a good fight. He didn’t finish him, but I thought he fought a good fight. Technically, I really didn’t see anything wrong with the way he fought. Who goes in there and fights five rounds with somebody and doesn’t even have a mark on his face? Not too many people can do that."
"I don’t know. People have to look at it that way instead of always thinking that Anderson is going to go in there and knock people out or submit them really quick. It just doesn’t happen sometimes."
Soares is right. It is unrealistic to think that even Silva is going to finish everyone in spectacular fashion, especially if he’s facing an opponent who doesn’t want to engage with him. But that’s only part of the problem.
People aren’t upset that Silva didn’t finish Leites. They’re upset that he hardly even tried. He was too busy trying to look smooth while tripping Leites or punching him in the thigh. This wasn’t Georges St. Pierre vs. Jon Fitch, where the champ tried repeatedly to put his opponent away but couldn’t manage it. This was a case of the champ fighting with a sense of entitlement, and absolutely no sense of obligation to put on a show for the fans.
Look, as rational people we all realize that every fight can’t be a total destruction. It’s possible Silva has spoiled us with his past performances, but there’s simply no way to argue that he went into the fight with Leites with the same approach that he had against Rich Franklin or Dan Henderson. In those bouts he was fighting to win. Against Leites he was fighting not to lose, and possibly fighting not to get hit.
To Silva, that may define a “perfect fight.” He didn’t get hurt, was never in trouble, and didn’t take any risks. That’s smart if your one and only goal is to walk out unscathed and with the belt around your waist at the end of the night. But that’s not the kind of approach that fans are going to reward. Just ask Tim Sylvia.
Is that unfair? Yeah, a little bit. But that’s the life of the champ. We expect more out of you. Even if we didn’t, even if this was an unaired preliminary bout in front of the few hundred people who got to the arena early, it would still have been a disappointment. This new style that Silva has developed may be effective in keeping his face pretty and his championship reign intact, but it isn’t ever going to be very popular. If he’s fine with that, so be it. He’ll have to get used to taking his lumps outside the cage.