In another time, Anderson Silva versus a young up-and-comer would be compelling matchmaking. In 2018, it’s taking the easy way out — unless you’re Silva, who is taking a considerable risk.
Sacrifice the old to bolster the young. It’s one of the most common themes in combat sports, but it’s particularly jarring in the wake of Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell. Not that Ortiz himself is “young,” but witnessing a zombie-like Liddell shamble towards oblivion wasn’t entertainment, it was torture porn. So why, then, is the man who originally ushered Liddell into retirement the better part of a decade ago setting up a potentially more brutal slaughter?
Dana White confirmed following The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale that yes, Anderson Silva will receive the next middleweight title shot should he defeat Israel Adesanya at UFC 234. It’s the very same card at which Robert Whittaker is defending his title against Kelvin Gastelum. Which means a year from now, or less, we could see Silva challenge for his old belt.
Well, we probably won’t. But that’s the problem. Silva vs. Adesanya is a reminder that sometimes, we need to let things go. It would have been a dream fight a decade ago, when Silva was in his prime. Of course, Adesanya was just 19 then and not even in the MMA game. Oh well. Why can’t we leave that as a “what could have been?”
Instead, the UFC has booked the 43 year old Silva against a younger, arguably more complex version of himself in the 29 year old Adesanya. An Anderson Silva whose lone win in years was a questionable decision over Derek Brunson in February 2017. ‘The Spider’ has not fought since, thanks to a drug test failure.
This is the point where someone will will stand up and shout “well Anderson Silva wasn’t getting knocked out like Chuck Liddell was!” Well, no. But that doesn’t mean you need to set him up for failure, either. Silva’s best days are long since removed. He’ll be coming off a two-year layoff meeting Adesanya, who has fought at a frantic pace by UFC standards. His reflexes have slowed, we learned that from the first Weidman fight.
Silva’s always up for a challenge, of course. UFC 200 proved that. But this is not the sort of challenge anyone needs to see. Worse, Silva was initially reluctant to take the fight. White recalled following the TUF 28 Finale that Silva’s first reaction was to say “I’m just coming back. How does that make sense for me?” When the belt was added to the equation, he jumped at the deal.
As he should, as a professional athlete. But whether it’s a fight that should ever be made is another question. Silva doesn’t even feature on the UFC’s current official rankings. Adesanya is ranked sixth. Not that the rankings have ever been followed.
And yes, there’s precedent. Dan Henderson was gifted a title shot against Michael Bisping while ranked outside the top ten. But at the very least, it was against a foe he’d defeated once before, and someone closer to his own level. Silva vs. Adesanya feels simply like a way to build up a young star, at the expense of a legend who is sticking around so long.
Feeding into that is never a good idea. Yet here we are. And watching UFC 234, at least when Silva takes on Adesanya, may require watching with one eye open.