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Anderson Silva making that walk again is pretty extraordinary in itself

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Thinking back on UFC 168, there was no way Anderson Silva was going to go out kicking and screaming like that. That broken leg he suffered against Chris Weidman was a little too human for any kind of GOAT. This is a guy who transcends things…from big moments to the sport itself, from Usher’s advice to fractured fibulas. He was always going to come back and face some Nick Diaz or other on some must-see Saturday night in the not so distant future.

"The Spider" has made a career out of just that sort of extraordinary.

In 2006, when Silva openly sniped Chris Leben and prompted Joe Rogan to roll out the old "ballet of violence" phrase, it was clear we were indeed dealing with a "different kind of striker." By 2008, when Silva choked out Dan Henderson, "The Spider" was already an exhibition of greatness. By 2009, when he bewitched Forrest Griffin with preternatural movement and counter voodoo in Philly, there was no question he was the greatest.

With each passing fight, Silva padded his legacy.

Then came Abu Dhabi, and the strange theatrics against Demian Maia, when Dana White threatened to cut the greatest (and now most enigmatic) fighter on the roster if he pulled anything like that again. Remember that? He was either bored or a head case and very possibly both. That led to Chael Sonnen, the most important event in Silva’s life, who galvanized the champ from whatever doldrums he was in and shot him from a cannon into the stratosphere of would-be wonders. Sonnen backed up his unparalleled audacity for four-and-a-half rounds at the Oracle in Oakland, only to become Silva’s greatest conquest in the end. That triangle armbar that he got Sonnen with deep into the fifth round was the capper.

Silva truly was, once again and as ever, the greatest.

When Silva punted Vitor Belfort’s head into the mezzanine at UFC 126, his entourage swayed to the beat. He brought the UFC back to Brazil after a decade at UFC 134, and what a celebration it was in Rio. Silva scored his ninth title defense. He made it ten in an anticlimactic rematch with Sonnen. He came over Stephan Bonnar like a hallucination at UFC 153. It was just too damn easy.

Of course, you know that the record finally skipped when he fought Chris Weidman at UFC 162. That’s when it all caught up to him. There was the dancing and clowning and finally Weidman’s no-nonsense left hand that brought the whole thing to a close. In the rematch, Silva snapped his shin in two on a low kick against Weidman’s knee. He was 38 and the credits were rolling. It was the saddest imaginable end to a career that had been otherwise beyond spectacular.

Only, it wasn’t the end. Here he is headlining UFC 183 at the MGM Grand on Saturday night.

Silva went through the rigors of mending his leg (and his reservations) for the last year and is now ready to try out the new titanium rod against all our wincing memories. Will he throw with the same ferocity he did before the break? That’s the mental hurdle that needs to be cleared. With Silva, a return from something like this goes into his mystique.

But if this Silva is anything like the Silva that reigned from 2006 into 2013, Nick Diaz could be in for a long night. Or a short one. Diaz likes to come forward with volume and pressure. Silva might need to get his bearings for a minute, but then it’s easy to imagine the switch. The wig-out moment he drops his hands and dances. The moment he taunts and sizes things up. The moment he toys and bobs and dekes and then throws something that gets the highlight reel rolling again.

The moment he knows he’s got him.  

At least, that’s what we’d expect from the GOAT, even when he’s coming back from a gruesome broken leg with Father Time now a permanent part of his corner. In truth, for any other fighter, the awe would be in just making the walk. It is for Silva, too. It is. Even the most desensitized MMA fan can appreciate the awesome feat of him just being here. Not many people that night in December 2013 thought we’d see him back again.

Then again, if the last decade has taught us anything, it’s this: It’s a fool’s game to underestimate Anderson Silva.