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UFC 234 Aftermath: Appreciating the twilight of Anderson Silva’s career

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

We’re not likely to see any more highlight-reel moments from Anderson Silva. At age 43, we’re probably not going to see any more Bruce Lee-style one-inch punch knockouts, face-kick KOs out of nowhere, or fifth-round Houdini-act submissions out of the man who still holds the longest title reign in UFC history.

But we should appreciate the twilight of the former middleweight champion and future Hall of Famer’s career all the same.

Silva, quite simply, still loves what he does. And that was rarely more evident than in his performance against Israel Adesanya in the main event of UFC 234 on Saturday night in Melbourne.

This was supposed to be the classic combat sports case of the young feeding on the old, the next generation making its name at the expense of the veterans, the “new Anderson Silva” beating the real deal.

Instead, we saw in Silva a fighter who was comfortable with his surroundings, glad to once again be doing what he was put on this earth to do. No, Silva didn’t turn back the clock a decade to his prime. But nor has he been getting blown out in his fights.

Instead, the cat-like quickness has been replaced by a wise competitor. One who knows how to pick his spots. One capable of using every Jedi mind trick in the book. One who has figured out how to stay relevant at a point most of his peers have moved on to other things.

It almost worked. Silva made Adesanya telegraph his head kicks, then smiled and dodged the incoming strikes. He kept Adesanya guessing to the degree Adesanya never quite unleashed to his full potential during the fight. Silva electrified the crowd with exchanges in the second round, pushing forward, throwing some big bombs, landing in the clinch, and giving the fans hope a memorable upset might occur.

That was enough to get the Australian crowd to issue a vociferous “Silva, Silva” chant in a matchup against a New Zealander at the start of the third round.

Alas, that was where the joyride ended, as Adesanya is simply younger, was fresher, and had enough left in the tank to keep Silva from pulling off an upset for the ages.

But that’s not really the point anymore. Anderson Silva, after all this time, still has something left to give. Saturday night was designed to be the time the old horse was going to be shipped off to the glue factory, but he still has a few races left.

If the UFC’s smart, they’ll let Silva, who is determined to fight out the big contract he signed when he was still champ, finish off his career with a couple fun fights, rather than insist on trying to feed him to the young lions. With the right matchup, Silva would make an attractive co-feature bout on a pay-per-view, or would pop a huge rating in an ESPN main event. That’s what Silva proved at UFC 234, regardless of whether his hand was raised.

Maybe it’s the sunset of Silva’s career, but sunsets are beautiful things.

UFC 234 Quotes

“In the long term, I’m the No. 1 contender. I’m the guy fighting for the belt. I don’t care. Kelvin or Rob, whoever it is. I’m fighting for the belt. Whoever has the belt, because I see Kelvin walking around with that belt and I don’t know who gave it to him. I’m fighting for the belt next — that’s all I know. I did my job, I showed up to work.” — Adesanya believes he’s next in line.

“Because the last time when I tried to fight in Curitiba, I had problems and I take the surgery very fast, and I [withdrew from] the card. Now I have a chance to fight in my city when everything city, where everything started. I talked to (Silva’s manager) Ed (Soares) and I talked to my team and maybe I think it makes sense, a fight with me and Nick Diaz in Curitiba. Let’s go see. It’s just waiting for (UFC president) Dana (White) because it’s not time to make decisions. Hopefully, I fight in Curitiba.” — Silva tries to call his next shot.

“When something like that happens, it could have cost Crute the fight, because if Alvey got back up and, you know — and then he goes to stop it too soon, then he stops it too early, in my opinion. It happens sometimes, and you know, it sucks for Sam.”Dana White on the stoppage in Jim Crute vs. Sam Alvey.

Stock report

Up: Israel Adesanya. True, Adesanya didn’t stop Silva. But then, Chris Weidman is the only fighter in the past 15 years who has done so. But Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of Adesanya’s UFC debut and it’s been a hell of a year. Remember when he ran over Brad Wilkinson at UFC 221? Everyone basically went “cool, but let’s see how he does with someone who can handle himself on the ground.” From there, he looked a bit shaky against Marvin Vettori, but then he mauled Brad Tavares, knocked out Derek Brunson (the guy who was supposed to stop Adesanya with wrestling), and then came last night. Thrust into the main event on a day’s notice against an all-time great, Adesanya did what he had to against a cagey vet who used all his his ring smarts. And the outcome was never really in doubt. While you can't quite call him the clearcut No. 1 contender, the mere fact this is even a debate after just one year in the UFC underscores how impressive a year this has been.

Israel Adesanya capped off a year in which he went 5-0 in the UFC.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Down: Kelvin Gastelum. There’s a line of thinking out there that says Gastelum was genius for parading around with a UFC belt on Saturday night. Really? Walking around with a belt when you’re not the champion is a gimmick that’s been done so often, it’s gotten tired. And the idea this will somehow keep Gastelum at the front of the line for a middleweight title shot? Yeah, ask Tony Ferguson and Colby Covington how that works out. All Gastelum had to do Saturday night was smile and wave for the cameras when it panned on him. Putting on this sort of display when real champ Robert Whittaker is undergoing emergency surgery was poor form, and not the sort of controversy that makes anyone want to pay $65 to see you fight next time.

Up: Ricky Simon You’ve got to have quite a bit of self-belief to rock a magnificent mullet like the one Simon sports. Turns out he can fight, too. Simon had a flawlessly executed game plan against one of the sports premiere jiu-jitsu players in Rani Yahya. Simon effortlessly parried Yahya’s takedown attempts (Yahya went 0-for-9 in that regard) landed counters to Yahya’s loaded-up right hands, and refused to take the bait when Yahya tried to goad him into his guard. It was the finest performance yet for a bantamweight who has low key gone 3-0 in the UFC. He shouldn’t be under the radar much longer.

Up: Kyung Ho Kang. Let’s face it, there weren’t a ton of consequential performances Saturday night outside the main event. I mean, what did we really learn from Lando Vannata and Montana De La Rosa rolling over overmatched foes? But Kang, who has been flying under the radar, brought the heat in his ESPN prelim opener against Teruto Ishihara. Kang survived an early knockdown, turned the bout into a firefight, and finish things with a wonderful transition into a rear-naked choke. That’s four wins in his past five fights for Kang, three via finish. That run was interrupted by compulsory two-year South Korean military service. Now that that’s out of the way, maybe we’re finally about to see what Kang can do.

Official matters

What’s there to say about Robert Whittaker’s fight-day pullout? This guy went 10 rounds with Yoel Romero over his last two fights, I don’t think anyone sane is going to question his toughness or heart. At least White didn’t go trashing one of his champions for once. The Whittaker-Gastelum cancellation, however, did serve to underscore the fine line the UFC is walking when it loads up ESPN events. UFC 234 was an event entirely dependent on the top two fights. They lucked out this time because the main event was such a memorable spectacle, but they risk killing the golden goose with one too many of these events.

It was simply a bad night for Marc Goddard, who on the whole is one of the sport’s better officials. Goddard did indeed make it appear that he was going to stop the Jim Crute-Sam Alvey fight after the first knockdown, which was why Crute backed off. Worse was the actual stoppage. Replays showed that as Alvey was giving Goddard a thumbs-up while on his hands and knees, Crute’s wild right hands were basically hitting everything except the intended target, with more punches landing on Alvey’s arm, the mat, or missing entirely than were landing on his head. Alvey then immediately popped up after the stoppage looking no worse for wear. It wasn’t the worst stoppage we’ve ever seen, but it was far from the best.

Fight I’d like to see next: Anderson Silva-Nick Diaz 2

Why not? Silva has a couple fights left on his contract. He’s going to fight his contract out. There’s no need to book The Spider in any fights that contribute to the championship picture going forward. Silva’s having fun, he clearly still enjoys what he does, and he’s still competitive. If he’s having fun, and we’re having fun watching him, then why not let him finish up with some fun fights? Silva’s first fight with Diaz is remembered for the wrong reasons in the aftermath, but the fight itself was enjoyable, and a rematch might just be the thing that finally coaxes Diaz out of his his self-imposed hiatus. Let’s make it happen.

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