Surreal. That’s a pretty apt description of most Anderson Silva fights, for better or worse. Dodging Forrest Griffin’s strikes like he was in the Matrix, standing on the cage against Stephan Bonnar, front-kicking Vitor Belfort in the face? Surreal. Dancing around Thales Leites and shouting “where’s your jiu-jitsu now, playboy?” at Demian Maia? Surreal.
But those pale in comparison to what happened last night. What happened last night, when Silva lost for the first time in seventeen fights because he pushed the envelope too far, was the definition of surreal. For the sake of trying to comprehend what happened, let’s recapitulate for a moment. The first round saw Chris Weidman, the new middleweight kingpin of the UFC, take Silva down. Faced with the area in which he was most vulnerable, Silva deftly rolled with what ground and pound Weidman offered and defended any submission attempts before getting back to his feet. The rest of the round was spent taunting Weidman and stuffing any attempts at taking the fight to the ground. At the end of the round, Silva inexplicably hugged Weidman before returning to his corner.
When the second round began, Silva was in complete control, mocking Weidman’s attempts to hurt him. It was a performance unlike any other. But Silva strayed too far to the edge; caught with his chin up in the middle of a Weidman combination, he was felled by a left hook. His eyes rolled back; he was out before he hit the ground, where Weidman followed with a salvo of ground and pound that was merely a formality. Somehow, Silva had lost his title even more than Weidman had won it.
Looking at it like that, as a sequence of events, it seems like what happened last night can be condensed into something that resembles a traditional narrative. Anderson Silva was clowning when he shouldn’t have been and paid the price. He shouldn’t have done it in the first place, and that’s why he lost. I’m not so sure it’s that simple. What made Silva great wasn’t just his win streak, it was how he won. How he transcended the bounds of what we thought was possible in combat sports, how his greatest challenge wasn’t the person standing across from him but the shadows of the performances he had to live up to and surpass. Like Icarus, he flew a little too high, strove to be something that no one could be. It turns out that Anderson Silva is not some deity of violence descended from the heavens, that he is prone to the same physical limits and temptations of hubris and grandeur that plague us lesser mortals. But that willingness to push those boundaries, to tempt fate and escape its consequences again and again, is what made Anderson Silva the best fighter in the history of the sport.
As for Weidman, the man has earned his time in the sun. His home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, he endured shoulder surgery and went an entire year without fighting. He deserves the money, the $50,000 Knockout of the Night bonus, the fame and the accolades that come with dethroning a legend. Regardless of how much Silva’s approach to the fight impacted the result, Weidman capitalized on an opportunity that no else managed to. There’s something to be said for that. With that said, if there will be an immediate rematch, I wouldn’t favor him. But then again, I was wrong about him last night.
Oh, there were some other fights too. Frankie Edgar and Charles Oliviera put together an entertaining, technical scrap tht shared Fight of the Night honors with Swanson vs. Siver. While there were momentum shifts, Edgar won all three rounds and finally got back on the right side of the win-loss column. Tim Kennedy managed to control Roger Gracie in an uneventful decision win and Mark Muñoz made a triumphant return to the Octagon in thrashing Tim Boetsch over three rounds. And to begin the night, Cub Swanson came back from a first round deficit to knock out Dennis Siver in the third in a contender for fight of the year.
But the story of the night was Silva. It always is when he fights, when he clowns, when he wins. But that’s not how last night unfolded. Anderson Silva was dethroned. It’s funny; when pressed to ask who he wished to fight, Silva would often respond “my clone.” Silva didn’t fight his clone last night, but he still managed to beat himself. I suppose that’s inexorable when you compete against your past accomplishments; sooner or later, you can’t go any higher. Last night, Anderson Silva flew too close to the sun and we were still shocked that he fell. With Silva, the rules seemed like they never applied. When they finally did, that was more surreal than anything else.