When Anderson Silva fights, it is often as if he is in another dimension. He moves with a level of fluidity and calm that is unmatched in mixed martial arts. This is a sport that demands precision. Fighters look to land "on the button." They target specifics. Not Silva. He floats on the edges of a fight, staying out of his opponent's reach, causing him to overextend, to make a mistake, and then exploiting whatever it may be. His freedom comes in being spectacularly rehearsed. When you've practiced everything thousands of times, it becomes part of you.
This is not easy to understand for most of us. Few of us will ever do anything as well as Silva fights. He has mastered timing and distance and angles and power, and how they all weave together instantaneously and seamlessly. He sees the bigger picture without losing focus of the moment. For a fighter, it is an invaluable quality to have.
In the past, Silva has noted that every fighter eventually loses. He's even done so four times in his career, even though he hasn't tasted defeat for over seven years. For the first time in ages, a significant portion of the sport's insiders believe he faces the possibility -- maybe even the probability -- of that streak ending. In fact, while Silva is favored in the betting lines, he faces his narrowest odds of victory since he fought Dan Henderson in March 2008.
To hear some tell it, the walls are beginning to cave in on his brilliant reign. There is a chance they are right. Silva is 38 years old, long past the expiration date of most elite athletes. For a fighter, he is ancient. But he is also wise, and after so much time at the top, Silva has no need for bluster or bravado. He will not guarantee a win over Chris Weidman at UFC 162. In fact, to hear him tell it, the result does not even matter.
"Every new fight is a new challenge," he said on Tuesday through an interpreter during a teleconference. "It’s really going to be up to whoever’s better prepared that night. Win or lose, a loser or a winner always walk side by side, so that doesn’t really matter. I've been doing this since I was eight years old. There's always new challenges, there's always new things. My biggest concern is going out there and doing better for myself. I'm not concerned about what my opponents do. I want to better myself and I want to overcome anything that I have."
Silva earlier said something quite similar. He was asked about his legacy as one of the sport's all-time greats. Did it matter to him?
It's worth noting here that his legacy is secure. Silva's run of dominance is unmatched. His 16-0 octagon record is the equivalent of the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect season. He's also become a larger-than-life personality, particularly in his home country. He's getting movie roles. He has 3.5 million Twitter followers. He has major sponsors like Burger King and Nike. But no, he said. It does not matter.
"I think what’s most important is to set good examples for those kids who watch UFC and the kids that are coming up," he said. "And whatever I should have done in the sport, I've already done. Win or lose, I’ve already done everything there is to do. Now it’s just a matter of doing what I love to do."
What are we to take from that? Is the great Silva at peace with the possibility of losing? His level of calm in the cage suggests he probably always has been. Once you accept the worst outcome as a possibility, your mind is more likely to remain focused in the face of danger.
Perhaps he feels more comfortable saying it now. Perhaps he feels more comfortable in his voice, and the weight of his words.
Silva has never been shy about communicating. He is the guy, after all, who repeatedly joked about his dream match being his clone. These days, he's more interested in fighting boxer Roy Jones, Jr., who was the subject of query on more than one occasion. Silva said that "regardless of the outcome" of the Weidman bout, he'd still like to fight Jones.
But he's also willing to offer an opinion on something heavy, like the protests in Brazil, or something controversial, like denying Dana White's claim that the two spoke in the aftermath of UFC 159 about a superfight. Or even when a fellow fighting great like Georges St-Pierre steps in and predicts Weidman will finish Silva and capture the middleweight championship.
"Imagine if I were to start listening to everything that people say," Silva said. "St-Pierre had his chance to pronounce himself about fighting me and he didn’t do it, so that's what he chose to say and that’s fine, but I'm not paying attention to what everyone else is saying."
If the results of the fight and the opinions of its observers don't matter, what is left? But that's the thing about Silva. His view has always been different than ours. It had to be. He reached a level of rarefied air because he could see when others couldn't, because he worked when others were busy speaking.
In Weidman, he may see a worthy foil, someone who is young and headstrong with a quiet confidence, or he may see someone who is far out of his depth. His words leave room for interpretation as to their true meaning, but Silva probably perceives the true threat level far more clearly than we do. After all, we're looking from outside of his dimension.