If there is one thing we know about combat sports athletes, it is that time tends to catch up with them quickly. The wear and tear on muscles and joints, the nagging injuries, the grueling training camps, they all take their toll on the body and combine to rob fighters of their explosiveness, their speed and sometimes, their desire. And in a game of milliseconds, that is sometimes enough to make all the difference between victory and defeat.
In 2011, mixed martial arts writer David Williams did an extensive study aimed at examining fighters' careers and their performance drop-offs. And what he found after examing the career spans of over 300 of them was that the steepest drop in performance comes after nine years of professional action. His theory -- dubbed "The 9-Year Rule" -- noted major fighters including Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko and Takanori Gomi as examples, but reported that across the board, the 9-Year Rule seems to apply with a handful of exceptions.
One of those is Anderson Silva. His most recent win over Chael Sonnen was just days after the 15th anniversary of his MMA debut. Now 37 years old, he is one of MMA's elder statesmen, and he is also an anomaly. In a young man's game, Silva is the second-oldest fighter ranked among the top 10 in any division (only 41-year-old Dan Henderson is older). And each time he fights, his unmatched record of success continues to grow.
Here is a look at his memorable UFC streak.
Most Consecutive Wins
1. Anderson Silva - 15
2. Royce Gracie - 11
Gracie's streak started at UFC 1 when Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was practically a family secret, giving him a sort of built-in advantage in fight competition. Still, he had to win 11 fights over four events to set the record, one that would last for nearly 16 years. Ironically, the match in which Silva broke the record is undoubtedly his all-time legacy bout: his August 2010 fifth-round submission win over Sonnen.
Most Wins In Title Fights
1. Anderson Silva 11-0
2. Georges St-Pierre 9-2
When you argue the places of Silva and St-Pierre in the pound-for-pound debate, this is where Silva gets a leg up. Not only because he's unbeaten, but also because both of St-Pierre's losses are via first-round stoppage. Silva's never been afraid of the big moments, and it's shown in his performance. It's also interesting to note that St-Pierre's last fight against Jake Shields was his first after his nine-year anniversary, and since then, he's been set back by injuries.
Consecutive Title Defenses
1. Anderson Silva - 10
2. Georges St-Pierre - 6
St-Pierre's streak is still active, so it's possible that one day he breaks Silva's record, but as noted, he's had trouble staying healthy. Silva's total of 11 straight defenses is just one less than the second and third longest streaks put together, as Matt Hughes is just behind St-Pierre with five.
Longest Title Reign
1. Anderson Silva - 2,114 days
2. Georges St-Pierre - 1,561 days
Of note, Silva has had the middleweight championship in his possession more than twice as long as all four of the previous divisional title holders put together. Dave Menne (105 days), Murilo Bustamante (267), Evan Tanner (119) and Rich Franklin (497) held it for a combined 958 days before Silva won the belt from Franklin. In addition, by the time St-Pierre defends his belt in November, he will have been inactive for 568 days, nearly one-third of his reign. By contrast, Silva has fought twice a year every year since he won the belt, though it is currently unknown whether he will get a second fight in 2012.
Significant Strike Accuracy
1. Anderson Silva - 67.6%
2. Cain Velasquez - 60.2%
There's no greater evidence of Silva's sniper-like striking than this stat, which has him ahead of one of the UFC's great ground-and-pound artists. Silva's pinpoint accuracy is as much responsible for his knockdowns and dominance as his power.
1. Anderson Silva - 16
2. Chuck Liddell - 14
What's amazing about this stat is that Silva averages more than one knockdown per fight. His 16 knockdowns come in 15 fights while Liddell, who is thought of as one of the hardest punchers in UFC history, needed 23 fights to get 14 knockdowns. In UFC history, 25 fighters have competed in the octagon more than Silva, yet he stands alone.
Even after Silva retires, the debate about whether he reigned over a weak division or was simply that much better than anyone else will probably live on. But the objective evidence showed that he certainly fought worthy opposition most of the time.
Most telling of his talent is his record of success against men who held titles in major organizations at some point of their careers. Against those opponents (Franklin twice, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Vitor Belfort and Nate Marquardt), Silva was 6-0 with 5 knockouts and 1 submission. Four of those fights were finished in the first round, and none of the six made it past the second.
Prior to facing Silva, his opponents had a combined record of 283 wins, 68 losses, 4 draws and 3 no contest, for a winning percentage of .803. Given that, there's no question that Silva faced a series of winners. And he largely dominated them.
It's not just that he won; it's how he did it. In eight of his 15 fights, he landed more than double the strikes of his opponent. Four times, opponents failed to land even 10 strikes against him. Think about that for a second, the level of supremacy needed to completely shut down an attack. Although James Irvin was far from his toughest opponent, Silva might have had his perfect fight against him. Why? Irvin landed no strikes. Zero. Leben did a little better, hitting Silva a single time. Griffin managed just four landed strikes. Belfort had six. Sonnen has been the only one to out-strike him in a fight, though he did it on two occasions.
Silva's career is boosted by the fact that he chose to go up in weight twice to fight light-heavyweights. The first fight came against Irvin, a big puncher who proved to be a fairly mediocre divisional talent at the UFC level. But in his second 205-pound fight, he faced Forrest Griffin, who was just coming off losing his title to Rashad Evans. Just prior to that, Griffin had beaten Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua consecutively, so there seemed to be true danger for Silva in the bout. Yet both of his outings at light-heavyweight proved to be whitewashings. Silva needed just 61 seconds to knockout Irvin, and took just 3:23 to embarrass Griffin.
For sure, his legacy fight is the first bout with Sonnen, a fight in which he survived a beating for almost four rounds until locking him in a stunning, fight-ending triangle/armbar. Finally, he had his character tested, and his reign in jeopardy, and he still refused to succumb to the moment and his opponent's momentum. While that is the moment that crystallized that his heart was of the same championship-level as his talent, Silva will be remembered for many of the moments he authored. His violent clinch work against Franklin. The way he viciously choked out Henderson. His clowning of Griffin. His dramatic submission against Sonnen. His front kick knockout of hated rival Belfort.
MMA is still a young sport, but we know from a small sample size that it is so multi-textured that losing is nearly an inevitability. That it is so physically demanding that primes come and go in a blink. But neither has held true for Silva, an exception to all of the rules. No one has ever done it better in the octagon, and at 37, The Spider may still have webs to weave.