LAS VEGAS – Saturday night the lights will go down on Anderson Silva. He will be standing in the Octagon by himself as they do. The music will play for Chris Weidman, and the swirl of big fight energy will make its way towards him, rather than him, as has always been the case, towards it. Silva hasn’t been first to the moment since he challenged Rich Franklin 104 PPV events ago at UFC 64.
In fact, Silva has always been the moment.
These are the traditions that will be a little out of whack Saturday night at the MGM Grand when Silva and Weidman come together again. Silva isn’t used to wearing the blue tape. Or going first. Or having Bruce Buffer’s cue card poking towards his chest as the "challenger." Or coming off of losses. Yet in terms of historical fight game magnitude, that’s where he’s at. He’s going first. And if he doesn’t avenge his July 6 loss to Weidman, where he was knocked out for the first time in his career at UFC 162, we will begin changing the tense of his greatness from is to was whether we mean to or not.
How are those for stakes? It’s not Silva’s legacy on the line; it’s the arrangement of verbs. The fight game is built on perception, and perception will do what it do.
And if this is it, if this is the moment that the game’s hitherto greatest pound-for-pound artist begins to set sail for that horizon, it’ll be a bit before we find another one just like him. (Note: There are none just like him).
Forget for a minute that Silva somehow married violence with formal evening elegance, to the point that Burger King and Nike and Corinthians all hung their decals on him, or that he spoke in long-winded Portuguese that translated to the tersest English, or that his facial expressions were as "fun" as his physical expressions in the cage, or that he’s the Mount Vesuvius of mystique who rolled around with an entourage that included kids, elders, fellow fighters, actors, gurus, oracles and comics…Silva was a wonder of preternatural movement.
He was a free-flowing, freelancing mirage who could slip your best punch and sting you from distance. He could touch the rafters with his knees. His clinch against Franklin contained a universe of inside violence that made you think it didn’t matter if you were fighting him in a cornfield or a phone booth, either way you were f---ed. He played the role of staple gun against Chris Leben, and a wind-dancing tube man against Demian Maia. His arms extended like Freddy Krueger on Dan Henderson, and what he did to Vitor Belfort with that front kick belongs to science. He put on a Hollywood Spooktacular against Forrest Griffin which will live in the annals of "greatest UFC performances" of all time. Griffin was bewitched by the trees swaying in front of him, as their branches crashed down on his chin.
All of this is of course an exaggeration of the actual events, but nobody did exaggeration better than Silva, and nobody was such an actual event. He was the closest thing we had to imaginative fiction in the UFC, and yet he was always real. He existed.
And would you look, there I am talking about Silva in the past tense. It’s already happening before it’s happening. That’s what happens with attempts of preemptive homage, the present gets mixed up in the past and the future.
The bottom line is, the 38-year old Silva could beat Weidman sensationally on Saturday night and the whole thing that happened in July becomes an aberration. Just a fluke. Just another dewy string in the "Spider’s" ultimate web. Silva could be 17-1 in the UFC at the very end of 2013, opening up a rematch with the Old Lion Vitor Belfort. Maybe there will be "superfights" after all, and trilogies.
But if that doesn’t happen, if this is it, here’s to Anderson Silva, who is, was and always will be, the one UFC champion who felt a little too good to be true.