On April 22, 2006, at the age of 31, a gangly Brazilian mixed martial artist named Anderson Silva cocked his right arm back and plunged Tony Frykland into unconsciousness with a devastatingly powerful lead reverse back elbow. He'd seen the technique thrown by Tony Jaa in the movie Ong Bak, and for several ensuing nights, Silva practiced it against the wishes of his coaches, elbowing a pillow held by his wife, over and over again, before using the unorthodox strike to defend his Cage Rage middleweight title for the third straight time.
If there was ever a harbinger of an extraordinary event to come, that snapshot of Hollywood violence fits the bill.
Two months later Silva climbed inside the UFC Octagon for the first time, staring across at a strawberry-haired bruiser who'd promised to send the outsider back to Japan, ‘where the competition was a little easier.' From that night until one fateful summer night seven years later, a span of 2,565 days of implausible greatness, Silva carved his name into the record books, one scalp at a time.
Sixteen men stepped across Silva's path. Some pushed him to the limits of athletic focus, forcing Silva to pull off harrowing escapes and brilliant, often otherworldly finishes. And some... well, some simply got smashed. Inevitably, though, they all shared one common bond. One opposer, one challenge, one force of nature who was simply too much.
Now 38 years of age, Silva is no longer UFC middleweight champion. Unseated by his own game, ousted by a punch he, in the midst of his theatrics, never saw coming, Silva's defining exploits are already written. A run: 16 fights, 16 victories. 11 stupefying knockouts, two submissions, two disdainful decisions, both bizarre beyond words, and one categorical miracle.
Chris Leben, Rich Franklin (twice), Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, James Irvin, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Forrest Griffin, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen (twice), Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami and Stephan Bonnar. These men make up the Silva Sixteen.
(Photo credit: Esther Lin, Zuffa LLC via Getty Images, USA Today)
Chris Leben: My coach at the time was Matt Hume. Matt Hume was the head judge for Pride, so he knew about Anderson Silva. He'd seen his [Cage Rage] fights and also watched him fight in Pride. Going into the fight, when the UFC told me they wanted me to fight Anderson Silva, that was the only opponent that my coach ever had second thoughts about. He actually said, you know... maybe we should try to get somebody else. But you know how Joe Silva is -- didn't have much choice.
Rich Franklin: I remember just looking at the film. He had the one fight against Chris Leben, and nobody really knew who he was. You come in and you have a fight like that, the initial reaction of the fans are, oh, he got lucky.
There were a lot of people talking before the fight, like, ‘He doesn't really deserve a chance at the title this early. He only has one fight in the UFC.' ... I remember that a lot of people that I was surrounded with at the time, and even the people in the UFC, were like, ‘You're going to handle this guy easily. This should be no problem.'
But I knew. I watched him. I knew Anderson was good. I could tell, this guy is world champion material before he even made it into the UFC.
Travis Lutter: Before Anderson was in the UFC, everybody that was a fighter kind of followed him. We both fought in Cage Rage. He'd fought Jorge Rivera, I'd fought Jorge. I remember talking to Jorge on [TUF 4], what he thought of Anderson.
Jorge talked about hitting him. It was the second round when he fought him in Cage Rage, and Jorge said, ‘I caught him. I hit him with everything that I had, and he smiled at me.' Jorge was like, ‘oh s--t, this is not good,' and that's when the fight went south from there. I actually went back and watched it after Jorge told me about that. You can literally see that moment in the fight. Everything changed from that moment on.
Patrick Cote: [Anderson] was the best in the world at that time. It was very complicated to find a training partner to, you know, do what he was doing. For me that was the hardest thing to do, find a training partner who could fight like him ... because he's doing some things that, he's really the only one doing them in the cage.
Chael Sonnen: I was able to look at what he'd done and just go, I can acknowledge that this is a good fighter, but I'm not going to acknowledge that he's (unbeatable). I was angry about it. I was angry and I was jealous. I was envious, and I was also just refusing to accept that there was something extraordinary about him. He was a guy that got to the spotlight and fought some guys that I deemed unimpressive. And that's just the reality.
Cote: I saw before that all those guys who were already fighting Silva, they looked in their eyes and they were already losing before the fight started. So in my head, I went in there like, ‘Hey man, you can knock me out. I won't remember it anyway.'
Sonnen: We've got these fighters in the UFC, the baddest dudes in the world, and here they are talking about, they want a title shot and it would be an honor to fight him. I heard guys say that.
I was so irritated with my fellow fighters for being such wusses. There is no honor in fighting a guy. You're not going to put a guy on a pedestal in a competition. You don't talk that way, and you don't ask for a freakin' title shot. You ask for the title. You set your goals. You get out of bed every morning at 5 a.m. and put on your running shoes to be the champion -- not to go fight the champion. I was so angry at where my fellow fighters were. A lot of that anger got displaced and got put on Anderson's shoulders.
But a lot of my message was to them; to these guys just being wimps, not believing they could beat him, and a lot of them not even wanting to beat him. Just wanting his autograph or wanting a photograph with him. Guys in his same weight class. I was legitimately angry, and I did make it a very conscious effort. I wanted it very clear to the rest of the guys on the roster that, We're here to fight. We're not here to get the approval of him or to allow him to continue this great career. You've got to go out and compete and try to beat a guy.
Franklin: My thought process was: Listen, you can say that he shouldn't get a chance at the title. But if he beats me, then it obviously proves he should've been there to begin with.
And like I said, when I was looking at the film, I knew right away. I knew it was going to be a tough fight. I knew that it wasn't going to be as easy as some people thought it was going to be. And then of course the outcome was what it was.
(Photo credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)
Leben: We had a gameplan going into the fight -- which I didn't listen to. I was extremely amped up for that fight. I kind of went straight after him; didn't circle, didn't use any of my movement that I was supposed to. And Anderson has really, really good footwork and good movement. After my first two attempts to try to hit him, and he just kind of moved out of the way and popped me with a couple jabs, I realized, crap, I really can't hit this guy. That was kind of the beginning of the end.
Forrest Griffin: I was coming more from the mentality of, don't be a big, slow guy. He eats that up all day. You've got to be quick. You've got to be light on your feet. You've got to move. You're not going to out-quick him. That's his bread and butter, the big slow guy. He loves it, a guy who's going to load up on his punches and try to punch him. He's going to touch you before you ever get going.
Stephan Bonnar: I just knew that if I could eat his counter right hand, then I could implement my gameplan, I had a good chance of pulling it off. Everything was going according to plan. I ate his counter right hand; it was nothing. I was like, I could eat these all night. And there was 30 thirty seconds left in the round and it was like, oh my God, I'm going to win this round. I could do this for two more rounds.
Griffin: Here's the thing. Guys at the gym, man, they want to act like Anderson Silva. And the thing is, you have to master a technique before you can throw it out the window. He's mastered stance, he's mastered hands returning to his head. He's mastered everything, and then he throws it out of the window and he works from there. I think that's like a Bruce Lee thing.
Bonnar: I expected him to be awesome. That's why I didn't want to sit there and have a kickboxing match with him. I knew I wasn't going to win that. He's so slick, he's so good. His timing, his head movement -- it's great. It's the best. That's the reason the guy is considered the Michael Jordan of the sport.
Lutter: It was more just dealing with the length that I remember thinking, okay, this is different. He was literally, for that weight class, he was longer than most of the heavyweights I'd trained with up until that point. That threw me a little bit, his length.
Demian Maia: His reach is difficult to fight, especially for someone who wants to take him down because his hands are low, so it's harder to take him down. He has great technique standing and punches hard, has a great jab, so it [throws off your concentration].
Yushin Okami: Anderson had his unique aura, which is very difficult to explain. He had long limbs with soft and smooth movement.
When I fought Anderson Silva, I felt his aura.
Sonnen: To lose track of what round it is, I think is a silly concept. I've heard guys say that before -- I didn't even know what round it was -- and I always thought that they were acting. Manufacturing a good story after the fact. And then that happened to me, and that's the only fight where that happened -- but I didn't know what round it was. I didn't know were having a great fight. There were so many positions where I just couldn't hit him right, I couldn't hit him and attack him the way that I wanted to.
Nate Marquardt: [Anderson] is very deceptive, and faster than most middleweights.
Franklin: If you and I clinch, I grab the back of your head and just pull your head straight down. Your natural reaction is to pull your head back up. Anything that I do to you in a fight, whatever I do to you, your reaction is to resist that. Naturally. It'll always be that way. If I'm going to push you, then your reaction is to push back into me so you don't lose balance.
And the thing with Anderson in the clinch was, Anderson was manipulating it. He was all about spinal manipulation. He would bend your spine to one side. As soon as you start fighting it, if he wanted to bend you to your right side, instead of fighting you and saying, I'm going to bend you to your right side, he would take the resistance you were giving him, as you were trying to straighten yourself up. He used that to bend you opposite way. So it's as if you're helping him achieve his goals. By the time you realized it, you're completely on the other side and you're fighting to get back your equilibrium again. But he's just letting you.
Cote: The thing is, too, he's so accurate. And he's a really good counter puncher. His movement, his footwork, is just unreal. For me, I wanted to chase him, but not running after him because it would be a big, big mistake. I wanted to take control of the pace of the fight. Cut off the cage, and try to cut the angle. Try to maybe capitalize on any holes I was able to find, but there wasn't many. (Laughs.) Every time I tried to hit him, he wasn't there. That was another problem -- he's really, really hard to catch.
Bonnar: This is Anderson. This is what he does. He does that to everyone. He drops his hands and breaks all the rules, he does all the things you shouldn't do, and then he counters you well.
Thales Leites: I wasn't bothered by the taunting because I knew what it was like. If you get frustrated and go for the finish, he'll counter and finish you -- just like what happened with Forrest Griffin.
Griffin: The big mistake I made was after I got shook up, I started hacking. I was slower, and I got scared and I got into a fight. I thought if I could hit him, I could slow it all down and turn things back in my favor. But the obvious answer is: If you're hurt, run from a guy. Hug him, grab him, pull him on top of you if you have to. Try wrestling with him a little bit. Don't go after him trying to hit him.
Bonnar: I didn't want to play that game with him. I didn't want to f--king play that game, let him get in his rhythm and move his head, do his little -- Chael calls it ‘the Medusa' -- where he does that movement, people freeze, turn to stone and get hypnotized.
Griffin: Here's the deal. What's he's doing there is he's getting you to open up, to stop, to get a little frustrated, to load up, so he can counter you. He wants you to throw him that big, slow, hard punch. And that's what he's doing. He's appearing to be open -- he's feinting. He's not going out trying to lead the fight. He's trying to get you to [lead]. He's trying to suck you in.
Leites: I've seen his fights before so I knew what to expect. I was ready for that, but during the fight I wasn't able to do what I wanted. I couldn't get the takedowns and wasn't doing my thing in the striking area, so I couldn't do my game plan. That shows how good he is, he leaves you no options.
Sonnen: I don't believe he's a great striker as much as I believe he's great at set-ups.
Anderson Silva will not just come out, throw a jab, follow it with a cross, end with a leg kick. He's not going to go up there and do what we're trained to do on a daily basis. He's going to come out and he's going to move. He's going to come out and he's going to put his hands down. He's going to jiggle his shoulders around, he's going to bob his head. Once he gets you looking at that, once you're now watching him, now he can attack you. But he won't attack until he does that. He will always trick you first. He will always be the medusa, turn you to stone. Make you freeze, make you react to him before he gets his offense off. And he's a master of it.
It may sound like I'm saying that as an insult, but I mean it as a compliment. It's what he does so well. But his strikes aren't any different. He still uses his hands, feet, knees and elbows. He's not doing anything that every other fighter in the UFC is doing. The difference is, again, these guys were in awe of him, and he could go out and shimmy and shake and have everybody stare at him. If you compare it to a dance, which is largely what a fight is, one guy is taking the lead and one guy is going to follow. Everybody else was very content to follow, and I'm looking at him going, I'm going to go out and punch you in your face. If I want to watch you, I'll do it on television like everybody else.
Bonnar: He actually did counter me well. I ate his counter right hand and I was kind of glad. He cranked me right on the chin with it, I ate it no problem. I thought to myself, man, I could eat those punches for a couple more rounds. F--k yeah, I'm going to give him a run. This is going to be a good one.
Franklin: When I went into the first fight with Anderson, because I'm a physically larger person than he is, I knew I would be stronger than him. So the idea in my camp was, because I'd seen him clinch in all his fights before, if he tries clinching with me, I'll welcome that all day long because I'm going to eat him up in the clinch. Before I fought him, I was so arrogant to think that.
We basically just overlooked clinch work in my first camp. And then I got into the fight. And with Anderson, it wasn't about strength as much as it was about his timing and keeping me off balance, all that kind of stuff. I always felt like I was completely out of position and working twice as hard as him.
Bonnar: My biggest mistake was letting him tie my arm up and hit that little trip. That was stupid, and for a second I was thinking, okay, I'll gladly go to the ground because I'd rather fight this guy on the ground anyway, so I should just stay here. And then my idiot ego got in the way and said, Jump up! You'll be fine! And I listened to him.
Okami: I stayed calm until Anderson got me with his head kick late in the first round. That kick did not give me any critical impact, but I heard that people went crazy and I thought, He got me.
Cote: I was the first one who put Anderson Silva into the third round for a long time. I knew that my knee was f--ked up. I knew that I was done. But there was no question about if I'm going back (out to fight) or not. I was like, okay, maybe I'm going to have a Hail Mary chance. I'm going to try to swing and catch him, or I don't know. But before the round started, I was searching for a camera. I wanted to do that, put [three] fingers up, just to prove to everybody. Say, Look at me, I made it. I'm in the third round.
Sonnen: I remember going into (the last round) thinking, okay, I'm one takedown away from being a world champ. I just have to get him down one more time, then this fight is over. We came out, I hit him in the face, and he went down. Some people said he slipped and some people said he was knocked down. It really didn't make a bit of difference, the point was I just needed to be on top and I was. And as soon as we went down, I was like, okay, we're done.
Bonnar: Man, [Anderson] weaved that knee right in there. If it were an inch higher or an inch lower, or if I wouldn't have just taken a breath in, then I could've survived that. He weaved it in there perfectly. I know he's the greatest and all, but I'm sure if he threw that knee 10 other times, nine of them would've been an inch to the right or the left, or higher or lower. But it was just the perfect shot at the perfect time.
And in my defense, too, while he was whaling on me on the ground, I know I was fetal -- that's all you can do when you get a solar plexus shot -- but I was trying to pick off the shots that he was hitting me with on the ground. And I just remember thinking, Ha! What an idiot. Thank God he's hitting me in the head right now, because my body hurts.
Marquardt: I remember I thought I should take him down again. I tried to force the takedown after he landed a punch. He tried to reverse the takedown and instead of fighting it, I pulled guard. He capitalized on it.
Leites: After the third round, I was just surviving. I don't like this fight because I know I could have done better, but I didn't try. I wish I had. It's not going five rounds, it's what I've done during the fight.
Okami: It is still a bit difficult for me to explain, but I can say [Anderson's first round head kick] was the beginning of my confusion. In the second round, Anderson got me with his counterpunch when I threw a punch for dear life, but I did not know what was happening while I was fighting. I found how I lost by watching the footage of my fight.
Franklin: I'll just say this. I don't know if I remember experiencing this or if I just remember watching the film of it happen to me, but there was a point in time, Anderson kneed me in the body. He bent me over, I think I was manipulated to the side, and he tried throwing a knee to my head. It didn't really land flush, but then he threw a knee to my body. When he hit me in the body, it completely took everything out of me. And then I think he manipulated me to the other side and he kneed me hard in the head.
You could see on my face the point of where, mentally, the switch had flipped -- as if I had mentally given up. I was defeated in that fight before the fight ended.
When I saw that ... it's just one of those things where you put your head down. You kind of shake your head. Because I've seen it happen so many times to my opponents when they're standing across the cage from me. There's a point where somebody will look defeated and you know, okay, I got this guy now. I saw that look in my face, and it's a really disappointing feeling.
Sonnen: Anderson stopped fighting in (our first fight) very early. As fighters, the stark reality is, there's times in that cage when we want out. There's times when we've had enough and we want out, and we're able to recognize defeat. He recognized that very early on. He quit trying to win that fight and starting trying to survive. There was a time in the third round when he was turtled up, he was on his knees and elbows just laying there and holding that position. I was hitting him repeatedly and the referee said, Hey, if you don't move I'm going to stop this! And he did not move. And I continued to hit him, and Anderson actually looked at the referee, and I knew that look. That look was, Hey ref, I thought you said you would stop this! He was ready for it to be stopped. He was ready to relinquish the belt, and I knew that and that's what I felt.
Again, those may sound like insults, but it's actually a compliment. Nobody breaks in a fight and comes back in the same fight. Once you break, you're done for the night. You've gotta go back. You've gotta shower up, you've gotta fly home, you've got to reassess, take three or four months and try it again. But that Anderson Silva breaks in that fight, and still finds a way to win, is remarkable. And I admire it about him tremendously.
Griffin: I don't remember it at all. I wasn't even there by that time. He knocked me down three times. I really just remember the first one. And I remember my corner screaming, ‘kick!,' and then I remember just kind of going on autopilot and attacking aggressively, which is a horrible idea.
I've never seen it, except for the highlights. I don't need to watch that one.
Leben: He hit me with a combination, and I went down. The thought crossed my mind, I really should just stay down right now. I know that getting up is not going to do me any good. But, you know, I wanted to give him a clean win, so I stood up. And as I turned towards him, I think that's when he landed a flying knee to my face, which was kind of the coup de grâce.
Fast forward to the next night. I'm with my stepmom and we're in the Hard Rock. They're re-airing my fight against Anderson Silva. I look up and I go, ‘Man, I can't believe that I got knocked out so bad tonight.' She goes, ‘Chris, that wasn't tonight. That was last night.'
The next night, I still thought it was after the fight. That's how bad he knocked me out.
Sonnen: He only hit me 11 times in the whole fight. I hit him 300 times, he hit me 11. And of those 11 times, he opened cuts over both of my eyes to the point that they needed stitches. I had blood in my eyes, along with the sweat and Vaseline. I was tired. I don't remember a whole lot about any fight, but that one in particular. I've never re-watched that fight. I've seen highlights of it because it's been played plenty of times, but I've never sat down and watched it. And I doubt a day will come where I ever do.
(Photo credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)
Sonnen: When the fight was over, I remember leaving the Octagon and Joe Silva coming over and shaking my hand. I just remember saying, I'm sorry. I was apologizing for a bad fight ... that the fight was so boring, that nothing happened. When the night was over, they came in the back and they handed me a check for ‘Fight of the Night,' and they said, ‘Lorenzo and Dana want you to have this.'
I thought, well, this is a consolation because that wasn't a very good fight, but they feel bad for me so they're handed me a check. I kept that feeling. I went to the press conference. I went home, and it wasn't until I got back home to West Linn, Oregon that I kind of started to understand what'd happened and what I'd been through.
Franklin: Obviously it's going to change you. You learn things. You learn things from the fight game.
Sonnen: Internally, it's devastating. It's very devastating to lose a competition, especially with everything that we put into it. In that regard, there's no doubt about it. Particularly the second fight. I was ready to fight that night. I was ready to win the world championship and he was ready to give it to me. If Anderson was to be candid about his thoughts going into that night, I strongly believe he knew what I knew. He knew he was in there with his kryptonite, and the belt was going to change hands. Before it could, I fell down. He didn't knock me down, I fell down. And he capitalized.
Griffin: I wish I wouldn't have taken the fight. I wish I would've done everything different, but that's the way it goes.
It was a very hard thing to get over. The next fights I had, people always wanted to bring it up. For real, just the fashion I lost and how embarrassing was really, really... it didn't do me any favors as far as my career. It was one of those things that, definitely thinking about it now, was the worst moment of my career.
Franklin: I can't get irritated about the fact that I wasn't able to defeat a man. Other people might think that way, but here's the way that I think. My goal when I set out in this game was not to be able to just beat whoever they put in front of me, but to be the best fighter in the world. And unfortunately for me, Anderson came in and he was a man that I couldn't beat, so that didn't end up happening. But his absence wouldn't have made that statement true. It may've made me believe that it was true, only because I didn't lose to him, but it's not a true statement.
If you know people are out there, and you want to walk around saying, I'm the greatest fighter in the world, but then in the back of your mind you're like, Man, I'm glad I don't have to fight this guy because he's in another organization -- I wouldn't want to live a life full of myself.
Maia: Right after the fight you reflect about if for a month and a half, things that you could have done but didn't, and that's bad. But after that you forget about it. You remember the mistakes you've made that can't make anymore, but not about the fight. There's no ‘if' in fighting. If it happened that way, that's because it was supposed to.
I learned a lot about me in that fight. I'd been hit like never before, but calmed down and went five rounds. It gave me confidence that I can overcome bad situations.
Cote: I was able to fight on my feet against Anderson Silva. Against the best striker in, probably, UFC history. It's like playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky and giving him a hard time. That's pretty cool. It was just an honor for me to be in the same stage and fighting for the UFC title. Everybody wants that, and I know there's a bunch of guys in the UFC who will never have this opportunity to fight for the title.
Me, you can say whatever you want about my style, about my record, about if you like me or not, but I had it. I had the opportunity to fight for the UFC title and I'm pretty proud about that. Fighting Anderson Silva, that was the cherry on the cake. You talk about the title and you talk about the belt -- but fighting a guy like that? Being able to actually give him a fight? After that I was a better fighter.
Franklin: When you can take a fight like [Anderson] did with Forrest, when [he's] able to fight like that, clown and still win in the fashion that he wins in, knocking a guy out? That's one thing. But there were fights Anderson fought where he was kind of clowning when I believe he could've flipped the switch, put himself in kill mode and ended the fight, and he chose not to because of his antics in the cage. I always wondered why that was. The Demian Maia fight, that's a fight I really believe he could've finished in the first or maybe second round. He had these antics going on, it was as if he was choosing not to.
Maia: I can't say I'm sad because I got there and fought -- overcame tough situations and fought five rounds. Going five rounds against someone like him, and going toe to toe in the final round is not something to be sad about. He fought better than me and won. I went there to win but didn't. It happens. If someone needs to be sad about that fight it's him, who didn't go for it.
Sonnen: I didn't get to go to school functions growing up. I didn't get to go to dances. I was never invited to a party ever. Until I got to college and threw a party, I had never even been to one. And nobody ever asked me to go, but I couldn't have anyway. Everybody knew, I was at practice. Everyday I was at practice, and I would come home tired everyday and go to bed. When you sacrifice those kinds of things, you're going to be hurt. It didn't matter what it was, from relationships to time to money, I'd have given everything that I had in this world to have my hand raised and be called a world champion. So it's a devastating feeling, but it's not something I'm bitter about. I'm very grateful for those opportunities.
Franklin: I think the biggest thing that I took away from that fight is that -- and this took some time, this wasn't something that I learned immediately -- was that if the worst thing that happens to me is losing this fight to Anderson Silva, that's the worst thing that happens to me in my life, then I'm good with it.
(Photo credit: Esther Lin, MMA Fighting)
Bonnar: I actually feel kind of responsible for him losing to Weidman like that. I'm sure [Anderson] just looked at Weidman as another dumb white American that he could pull that s--t with, because he got away with that s--t with me, with Forrest. He started pulling that same s--t with Chris, and Chris hit him with the same left hook I did, but just a little harder and right on a good spot on the chin. Lights out. So, sorry Anderson for giving you that false sense of confidence there.
Griffin: Chris Weidman got some really good coaching. They said, ‘Punch him in his f--king chest. Put a hole in his f--king chest. Don't swing at his head. You're not going to hit it.' That's the thing. He knows he's getting you to open up, so he can counter you. Now the problem is he's been doing it and doing it, and you can see from me to Vitor (Belfort) to Stephan ... he's getting more and more careless. Not careless, but he's just been having so much success with that thing that he became too enamored with it.
Cote: Maybe he was a little bit bored, because he was so dominating against other opponents. He was still trying to give a good show. I don't know. It's hard to say bad things. He's the champion, he can do whatever he wants. If you don't like it, just train and go beat him. (Laughs.)
Leben: It truly is a miracle, amazing and a little bit of luck too, that Anderson was able to go against so many top competitors without somebody finally landing a lucky shot on him. I have a saying: You drive a car long enough, you're going to get into a wreck. That's just kind of the way things are. It's amazing that Anderson went so long without getting into a wreck.
Leites: Anderson was taunting, but that's what he does. It's a natural thing. He does that to break his opponents psychologically and counter, but he got lost. Chris Weidman was patient, waited for the right moment. Everybody has two arms and two legs. You're in a fight. If someone punches you in the chin, you're going down.
Lutter: I think there was a time when Anderson Silva's chin was really, really good. His chin, at some point in time on it's own, somewhere along the way, it started moving south, and I think it showed when he fought Chael. When he fought Chael, Chael knocked him down. Chael isn't known to be that hard of a hitter.
Maia: Weidman's reach is also an important factor. He has more reach than Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson, and I don't think Anderson has fought in the middleweight division against someone that has more reach than him. It was not only because of the reach -- Weidman is a great fighter -- but it definitely helped. That few inches on the end, maybe someone else like me, Belfort or Henderson would have missed that final punch.
Griffin: Here's the other thing is, when Anderson was fighting Chris, he wasn't countering. Like with me, he'd feint, feint, and then counter. There was a real famous montage in the fight where I threw a three-two-three, and he just casually slips-slips-slips, then pops me and knocks me down like it's nothing. And that's the thing. He never made Weidman pay.
Bonnar: It was just a matter of time. And he got too cocky, too. Even when he started doing that with me, when I tagged him, he got smart and ducked and stopped doing it. Then he went back to it and I threw a punch and he tightened up. But with Chris, he was so cocky. He got hit with a punch and then he dropped his hands and did it more though -- taunting him, like, oh, that really hurt. Here, let me stick my chin out. He kind of went too far, a little overboard, and I think it was that confidence from getting away with it for so long. He kind of thought he was invincible. But if he would've been his normal self, dropped his hands, then when Chris hit him that first time, got smart and tightened up his defense, that wouldn't have happened.
I think he forgot he was human there. I don't blame him. I mean, he got away with it for so long.
Lutter: The other thing is, he's really fast, but I don't think he's as fast as he used to be a few years ago. He's getting older, he's looked a little bit slower. His levels, his movements, stuff like that.
It's like when Roy Jones Jr. was the best in the world and was beating everybody. He was doing a lot of that type of movement. He would barely get out of way. And towards the end of Roy Jones' career, he got knocked out a few times. Muhammad Ali talked about it, some of these other boxing greats have talked about it -- the difference is, when they were younger, they would get out of the way and a punch would just barely miss them. Now, they're almost getting out of the way and the punch is just hitting them.
Griffin: I was shocked. People were running up to me asking me questions. I was at a screening of the fight and I was just kind of caught of guard. Like, I need a minute. I don't know how I feel about this. I don't know what's going on.
I think Jon Jones had that famous reaction where he said, You've got to respect the game.
Cote: The thing is, a guy like [Anderson] comes around every 10, 15 years. It's very, very rare that some guys dominate the game like that. He was just too much for everybody, and I think that's why he started goofing around.
Sonnen: You cannot be in a fist fight with your hands down. He was a good enough athlete for a number of years so he got away with it. But Weidman slipped all of his punches, he dominated him on the ground. If that fight had gone to the scorecards, it was very clear who was winning that fight.
Leites: I believe Anderson has learned a lot with that loss. Anderson has more technical qualities than Weidman, but Weidman is really great and has a good head, too. You don't become the champion if you're not that good. And he showed he is, so we need to stay close because anything can happen in this rematch. But I believe Anderson still is the favorite.
Cote: In my heart, I hope that Chris Weidman is going to win. Because if I was him, I'd be pissed now. He's the champ, but everybody was talking about how Anderson Silva lost. Not how he won. He didn't get the credit for his win, he didn't have everything that the champion is supposed to have after winning the belt. So from this side, I say Chris Weidman. But in my head, Anderson is going to be well prepared. And I think now it's going to be a beating.
Lutter: This is no disrespect to Chris or anybody else, but I felt like Chris got lucky. I felt like the fight was going Anderson's way. Maybe I'm wrong; I wasn't in there, I'm just a spectator. But I thought he got lucky and I really think in the rematch -- unless Anderson's chin is really, really gone -- I don't see Chris beating him.
Sonnen: (If you want to call it a lucky shot,) I don't think I would disagree with that. I think that's a reality of fighting. A lot of guys dismiss something if it was, you know, what you would call a lucky shot. I've never understood how that becomes a bad thing. Fighters will deny that constantly. I remember the night George Foreman beat Michael Moore. That is what you would call a lucky shot, and George was so adamant, even to this day, that it wasn't. I don't understand how that takes away from the accomplishment.
Bonnar: I'm a big fan. I'm a big fan of Anderson. But I thought he got what he deserved. I mean, the guy earned a title shot. You're not fighting a guy who, this is his first fight in the UFC. This guy, even before the UFC, he beat up Uriah Hall pretty good, who's a good striker. He dropped him with his left hook, too. So, I think Anderson didn't do his homework and didn't respect Chris' power. And he should've. He should've.
Cote: Anderson stopped respecting the game. The line is very, very thin between giving a good show and lack of respect, and I think he crossed the line a little bit and he got caught.
We don't play MMA. We play hockey, we play baseball, but we don't play MMA. We fight. It's serious business, and when you stop respecting the game, some s--t can happen.
Sonnen: What so many people have really missed is how bad Chris Weidman fought that night. That was the single worst performance I've seen from Chris Weidman.
Chris Weidman should've won that night. He's a 28-year-old kid, he's broke, he's undefeated. He should be able to beat a 38-year-old millionaire who's been there, who's done that, and everyday has had to search for motivation because he's done it all. So as far as Anderson's legacy, it should not be questioned.
Leites: He'll be remembered as the greatest of this era, like Fedor was before. I don't think anyone will break his records because the sport is so difficult today. When you're the champion, there's a target on your chest and everybody wants to be where you are. It's hard to stay motivated when you're at the top, and nobody stays unbeaten forever. I won't say he's the best of all times, but he's one of the best for sure.
Bonnar: You really can't argue with what he's done, no matter how [Weidman-Silva 2] goes. Look at how many consecutive wins and title defenses he had. That's going to be a hard one to beat. Jon Jones is catching up to him, but he has a long way to go. So yeah, in my mind, no matter what happens, he's still going to go down in history as one of the greatest of all-time. Just because Ali lost to Larry Holmes at the end of his career doesn't make what he did any less great.
Franklin: Bingo. As I was answering that question, that's what I was thinking of. Ali had his fair share towards the end. You think of all the great names; every fighter, we could play this game. I could throw a name out there of who is a great fighter, I could throw a name out there like Stephan Bonnar, and the first thing that's going to come to mind is his fight with Forrest Griffin, not how Anderson defeated him.
Leben: For me, it's inspiring to be able to see what one man can do. Some of these fighters that he's gone against are considered some of the top fighters in the world at their weight class, if not the top. Can't tell you how many guys he's knocked out and taken out of that slot of being No. 1 contender, over and over and over again, and made short and easy work of ‘em. It just goes to show you, you think when you're at the very top, everybody always says it's a one-percent difference that really separates No. 1 from No. 2. But being able to see how hard somebody can take it, and how far they can grow -- when you watch him fight, he's fighting the No. 2 ranked guy in the world, and he looks twice, maybe even three times the skill level that his opponent is at.
That's kind of what's so amazing, is f--k, nobody really knows. Where does it come from? Because obviously he doesn't have training partners that are going to be at that level to push him like that, to be able to survive that kind of stuff everyday in training. So how does he do it when he gets out there in the cage against the No. 2 ranked guy in the world? I don't know. In my mind he's the Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky of mixed martial arts.
Cote: He changed the sport. He changed the sport not just because of his record, but because of his style. He put the sport on another level. Every fighter in the UFC was watching Anderson Silva. We learned from him. From footwork, new punches, new kicks -- he was unique. We were watching him and we learned a lot of things from him. If he stops after his next fight, hey, good for him. I think he's has enough money to stop now. (Laughs.)
Franklin: At the end of the day, we can all throw a name out like Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture, or Matt Hughes or myself. When you throw these names out, these are all great fighters who been in the UFC. Great champions. But all these guys, myself included, have suffered terrible losses. Every single one of them.
Anderson will be remembered for all the greatest fights that he's done. All his great victories, not just this one loss -- even if he walked away right now and said, ‘I'm done.'
Sonnen: Chris Weidman is the first to say, 'I'm not the fighter Anderson Silva is, and I may have beaten him, but I haven't carried the heavy water long enough' -- and he's right about that. Anderson Silva beat enough guys over enough years. He climbed that mountain. He stayed there. It's extremely difficult to get to the top, but to stay there for a significant period of time, like he did...
Nobody's ever done it. It doesn't matter if I'm a rival of Anderson Silva's or not, I'm also very objective. And I'm not going to take something from a guy that he earned. Anderson Silva earned the right to be called the greatest of all-time. And those are just the facts.
Interviews with Thales Leites and Demian Maia were conducted by MMAFighting.com's Guillherme Cruz. Vitor Belfort declined to participate in this project. Dan Henderson and James Irvin did not respond to several messages left by MMAFighting.com.