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Better Decade: Fedor Before Werdum, or Silva Through Belfort?

Twelve days ago, I would have said that Fedor Emelianenko was the best fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. Now, I'm not so sure. The combination of Anderson Silva's spectacular knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 and Fedor's loss to Antonio Silva a week later might force me to reconsider and pick Silva as the greatest in MMA history, and Fedor as No. 2.

It's a close call, and any argument about the best fighter in MMA history is rife with problems. The biggest problem being that there's not much history to MMA. It's a new sport, and it's a really new sport if you want to use an apples-to-apples comparison of fighters competing under modern rules with weight classes. In fact, I think the arguments about the best fighters in MMA history are so complex that I don't want to deal with them here.

Instead, I'd like to ask a simpler question: Who had a better decade: Silva in the 10 years up to and including his victory over Belfort, or Fedor in the 10 years before the loss to Fabricio Werdum that started his current two-fight slide?

First let's define our terms. Fedor's 10-year period is from the start of his career, in 2000, through his victory over Brett Rogers in 2009. Silva's 10-year period is from the first time he fought outside Brazil, a Shooto fight in the spring of 2001, through that victory over Belfort.

Fedor's record for a decade: 31-1
Silva's record for a decade: 26-3.

So Fedor's record was better than Silva's during their best 10-year spans, and both Fedor and Silva have one loss that we can more or less toss out as a fluke: Fedor lost when he was cut by an illegal elbow, while Silva suffered a disqualification against Yushin Okami. I'm not sure how relevant either of those fights are to judging Fedor and Silva.

Silva's two Pride losses are relevant, however. I've often heard from MMA fans in the "Pride never die" school who think Fedor was far better than Silva in the early part of their respective careers. Some Pride fans think it's not even close. And it's true that Fedor was way better than Silva in Pride: Fedor went 14-0 in Pride, while Silva went 3-2, and Fedor was fighting better opposition in Pride than Silva was. Contrasting Fedor's amazing consistency over the first 10 years of his career with Silva's two Pride losses, it's hard to even make the case for Silva.

But a lot of people don't realize just how good Silva was 10 years ago, and how much he had accomplished before he fought in Pride. On August 26, 2001, Silva beat Hayato Sakurai by unanimous decision to win the Shooto middleweight title in a fight that is largely forgotten by today's fans but was, at the time, a huge development in the sport. As Jordan Breen wrote in a look at Silva's career in 2009, Sakurai was 18-0-2 and widely viewed as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport at the time that Silva beat him.

That victory stood as the best of Silva's career until he signed with the UFC and went on his current tear. Now I'd rank it as maybe his sixth-best, after his two wins over Rich Franklin and his victories over Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin and Vitor Belfort.

Were those victories better than Fedor's biggest wins? I'm not sure. Fedor's two wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his one over Mirko Cro Cop were monumental, and although there's been some revisionist history lately about Fedor's last three wins (Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski and Rogers), those were all legitimate opponents that Fedor put away handily. Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Heath Herring and Semmy Schilt were all credible opponents for Fedor as well, and he dominated all of them, too. It's true that Fedor fought some ridiculously easy opponents like Yuji Nagata (career record: 0-2) but he fought a lot of very good opponents, too.

Silva has been amazing at moving up in weight classes. He beat Sakurai at 168 pounds, has dominated the middleweight division and also moved up to beat a very strong light heavyweight, Forrest Griffin. Fedor has only fought in the heavyweight division, although one of the things that makes Fedor amazing is that the vast majority of his wins have come against bigger opponents.

When both Silva and Fedor are retired, we're going to look at their careers and say that Silva accomplished more. Fedor doesn't look like he has much left, while Silva looks like he was revitalized by the challenge that Belfort presented. Give them both a couple more years, and we're probably looking at Silva having some more spectacular wins, while Fedor is probably done beating elite opponents.

But the best 10 years of their respective careers? Fedor gets the edge. Silva will be judged as greater by history because he lasted longer, but Silva went through that lull in his career when he dropped a couple fights in Pride. Fedor gave us a decade of unparalleled excellence.

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