In some ways, simply stepping into the Octagon last night to meet Nick Diaz in the main event of UFC 183 was Anderson Silva's greatest moment.
Not from a pure mixed martial arts perspective, of course. The former longtime UFC middleweight champion's bout with Diaz in Las Vegas was at times perplexing, at times seemed on the verge of getting to the next level without ever quite getting there, at times looked like two guys who had been out of action a very long time.
No, I'm talking about the fact Silva was there at all.
Silva's bar is set so high that he can not only come back from his gruesome leg injury, but also make people forget about it to the degree they judged Silva's performance against his prime self. That, in its own way, as an accomplishment.
Over the years, Silva was an action movie in real life, delivering one breathtaking highlight after another. Whether it was the Bruce Lee one-inch punch finish of Forrest Griffin, the Vitor Belfort face kick, the Houdini act in the first time around against Chael Sonnen, or the bullseye knee to the chest in the rematch, Silva seemed more superhero than human.
The average person can't relate to such greatness so much as be in awe of it.
What Silva's been through over the past year, however, has humanized him in a way nothing he's done in the cage ever could.
"The Spider" turns 40 in April. Michael Jordan retired for the third and final time at 40. Wayne Gretzky retired at 38. Neither of those legends got punched in the face for a living, and neither of them suffered a gruesome injury that led everyone to assume he was finished on their way there.
At an age in which even the all-time greats in other sports wind it down, Silva decided that what happened against Chris Weidman at UFC 168 could not be the final chapter of his career, and went out and did something about it.
Most fans are never going to experience what it's like to knock someone out in front of 15,000 screaming fans. But they can relate to someone overcoming deep adversity. Silva's struggle, his triumphant comeback, and the genuine emotion and grace he showed afterwards, humanized the superhero in a way no highlight-reel finish ever will. And that matters far more than whether Silva's performance against Diaz was a work of art.
So, should Silva ride into the sunset on a high note? It seemed plain last night that Silva's not likely to contender for a championship again. Maybe he can pick and choose a couple more fun fights along the way. Maybe he'll listen to his family and call it a day. It's his call. But it's doubtful Silva, the action-movie fan, will ever get to write a greater script than the one which played out over the past year and culminated Saturday night.
UFC 183 quotes
"When I talked to my son, my son cried. ‘Dad, stop, please.' You don't need more fights." -- Silva, who says he'll take family considerations into account before deciding whether to return.
"I felt like I won every round." -- Diaz, in his postfight interview with Joe Rogan.
"I'm sure the judges don't like that." -- Diaz, on his first-round clowning.
"I have a really bad headache right now." -- Miesha Tate, who suffered a cracked orbital bone in her victory over Sara McMann.
Down: Nick Diaz. The Stockton bad boy's fans will stay loyal to him regardless of what happens. That being the case, he'll have value as a draw on some level for the foreseeable future. But no matter how often his legions -- who at times can be MMA's equivalent of Oakland Raiders fans who think dressing up in costumes actually makes them scary -- throw tantrums at the mere suggestion Diaz is anything even slightly less than perfect, the facts state he's not getting the job done once the fights start. Depending on whose scorecards you're using, Diaz has lost as many as 14 of his past 15 rounds against Silva, Georges St-Pierre, and Carlos Condit. And while that's obviously a high level of opposition, those who tune in for Diaz fights but don't worship at his altar are starting to wonder whether Diaz, and not his promoter, is the one selling the wolf tickets.
Up: Miesha Tate. For awhile there, it looked like we were watching Tate's swan song as a serious contender, in her bout with Sara McMann. For someone who's only 28, Tate's been through the wars, and McMann was beating her at her own game in the early going. But Tate showed tremendous heart in fighting through what turned out to be a cracked orbital bone, and rallied to defeat McMann. It was similar to what she showed against Julie Kedzie in Strikeforce in 2012. Tate's not a perfect fighter. She's got flaws, But she's also got a ton of heart, and that's why she'll remain a fan favorite and legit contender for some time to come.
Down: John Lineker. This might be the first time someone's landed in the "down" column after rallying over the final two rounds to win a fight. But then, there have been few cases quite like Lineker. Not only did Lineker quit on his weight cut, ensuring he'd miss the flyweight limit for the fourth time in eight fights, but he then proved he just doesn't get it, as he mocked Ian McCall by rubbing his belly late in the fight. With a more serious attitude, Lineker could have been the breakout challenger Demetrious Johnson has sought. Instead, it's off to 135, where he'll have to start over from scratch.
Down: Jordan Mein. You wouldn't have known it from the commentary, where Joe Rogan was making Mein out to be Silva, GSP, and Fedor all rolled into one. But in the first round of his fight against Thiago Alves, which Mein clearly won, every time he let up for a second, Alves would break through and land a solid, clean shot. The pattern had a disastrous result in the second round, when Alves crumpled him with a leg kick and went on to finish him. You know who else scored a similar win over Mein? Matt Brown, who was losing until Mein left an obvious opening, then made him pay. Mein's still young. He's exciting. He has a ton of potential. But his inability to fix his mistakes has cost him twice, against his biggest-name opponents. Unless that changes, his potentially won't get fully unlocked.
Up: Al Iaquinta. Saturday night was Iaquinta's proving ground, his biggest test on his biggest stage. And boy did he come through with a second-round stoppage of the always-game Joe Lauzon. Serra-Longo looks to have themselves yet another potential contender.
There was nothing too egregious from the officials last night. Lauzon-Iaquinta certainly could have been stopped sooner. Those complaining about the Silva-Diaz scorecard don't seem to be able to grasp that a fight can be 50-45 and not be a rout. In a sport where 97 percent of rounds are scored 10-9, a 50-45 can indicate five close rounds as easily as it can a blowout.
Instead, here's something to ponder: In the wake of Lineker and Kevlin Gastelum's terrible weight misses, perhaps it's time for fighters to ponder what Anthony "Rumble" Johnson has accomplished. Where was "Rumble" at 170 pounds, then 185 pounds, and where is he now? Johnson didn't get the most out of his potential until he stopped hurting himself by trying to get down to the lowest imaginable weight his frame can reach. When he let himself go up to 205, he thrived. Maybe there's something to be said for that. It's a point both Lineker and Gastelum should ponder.
Fight I want to see next
Nothing particularly obvious came out of UFC 183's results. Iaquinta deserves a step up against a solid top-10 lightweight. Alves made himself relevant again. So did Derek Brunson. Tate proved she still belongs in the top echelon in her division. So with no fight screaming "must-make" the way Jon Jones vs. Rumble and Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor emerged from the previous two cards, here's a hope that if Silva chooses to go forward, he picks his spots -- the GSP superfight, maybe? -- instead of going back into the shark tank that is the top of the middleweight division.