Anderson Silva did it again. At the age of 46, “The Spider” added to his iconic highlight reel with a first-round knockout of Tito Ortiz in the co-main event of Saturday’s latest Triller Fight Club attraction. In the main event, fellow MMA legend Vitor Belfort replicated the feat with a standing TKO of 58-year-old retired boxing champion Evander Holyfield. What mattered most from a bizarre and chaotic Saturday night? Let’s hit our three biggest takeaways.
1. Spider forever
The revival of Anderson Silva is one of the best stories of 2021. In an otherwise gross and depressing night, the legend of all legends shined once again as only he could. At age 46, Silva barely broke a sweat in his 81-second romp over fellow MMA luminary Tito Ortiz. Just as he did in June against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the old “Spider” emerged from its slumber — that mystical arachnid who delights in playing with his food, bobbing and weaving and luring his prey into a false web of security before exploding in one dazzling burst of ultraviolence that demands multiple angles and replays to fully understand.
It was brilliant and beautiful and everything that Silva embodied for so many unforgettable years. And his sly smile afterward said it all. He did it for Wing Chun. He did it for Bruce Lee. But most of all, he did for himself. He was almost disappointed that his check came so easy.
It’s been a weird, tempestuous year for many, and our little corner of the sports world is certainly no exemption. But if nothing else, 2021 has become the grand sendoff Silva always deserved. The grand sendoff he never got from the place he long called home.
The last six years of Silva’s UFC run were never about some silly pursuit of a title. They were about a pursuit of the joy Silva once felt in the cage. “The Spider” made that clear early on. This game means everything to him. Through an endless string of disappointments and injuries and baffling matchmaking, he just wanted to feel that old feeling again, to know that it still existed within him, to live out that sense of ultimate belonging one last time.
You could tell it crushed Silva to lose that feeling for as long as he did.
Of all the ways to send out one of the sport’s truest living legends, he deserved better than the old UFC special. He deserved better than to be chewed up and spit out like all of the rest. At least he’s found that respite now. He’s found that peace of mind again.
In the unlikeliest of places, Silva is finally getting his proper final chapter. He’s finessing the current era’s obsession with celebrity boxing better than anyone other than the Paul brothers — and it’s so much more fitting for him to be showered with the sort of late-career love in moments like Saturday rather than in moments of profound sadness. Because last night, for the second time this year, Silva slipped back into that old special place. He snatched 20 percent of Ortiz’s purse in one of the most predictable weigh-in misses of all-time, then effortlessly added another monster KO to his highlight reel. For now, even as he reaches his 50s, the greatest middleweight of all-time is living his best life again.
You love to see it.
2. What’s next
Speaking of the Paul brothers, whenever the circus comes to town, you just know they’re going to be involved in way one or another. And even if neither of them had anything to do with Saturday’s event, Triller certainly made a point to mention the brothers at every turn.
I hope I’m not spoiling any fantasies in the Triller offices by letting them know that Jake Paul isn’t coming back to their banner to box Vitor Belfort, no matter how badly Belfort may have beaten a man who was nearing his 60th birthday on Saturday. But I do have to admit, in regards to Silva’s decision to throw his name into the Pauls’ sweepstakes ... I don’t hate it.
In fact, I think it actually makes a lot of sense.
Whether for Logan Paul or Jake, Silva could be a legitimately interesting next opponent. His name carries more weight and legitimacy in the combat space than even a fighter like Tyron Woodley, and his résumé certainly carries more historical cachet. He’d serve as a proper escalation for Jake — or a proper deescalation for Logan — and he’s long since proven to be a pay-per-view draw against the right opponent. Tell me Jake Paul couldn’t play the Chael Sonnen heel role to perfection opposite Silva’s babyface.
Frankly, momentum is on Silva’s side, too. Paul’s schtick is that he boxes MMA fighters. He’s reached a point where he needs to box an MMA fighter that actually knows how box. Silva obviously does. It makes sense.
So why wouldn’t it happen? Well, the main reasons are twofold: 1) Silva’s general unwillingness to engage in the pre-fight circus may not generate nearly the amount of viral clickables as Woodley or even Askren did. At least in this conversation, that matters. And, 2) even at age 46, Silva clearly isn’t in this to mess around. One split-second mistake and he could very conceivably embarrass Jake Paul and blow up this whole money train in the ring.
Ultimately, I doubt it happens, because if I’m a Paul brother I’m absolutely fighting an easier mark like Tommy Fury for the same amount of money that a Silva pay-per-view would probably generate. But in the words of matchmaker extraordinaire Michael Chiesa, Jake Paul vs. Anderson Silva is the fight to make next — and no one can convince me otherwise.
Look, I’m never the guy who’s going to sit up here on his high horse and moralize. Rarely, if ever, will you hear me bellyache about swear words or middle fingers or post-fight brawls or shout from the rooftops about how won’t somebody please think of the children. I watch folks get in fist-fights for a living. It’s an inherently grotesque beat, and really that’s always been part of the fun, right? Reveling in a world most people would be repulsed by.
But what we saw in Saturday night’s main event? There’s no word for it but one.
Absolutely gross. It never should’ve happened.
The Florida State Boxing Commission should be embarrassed for sanctioning that Hail Mary of a main event — a sh*t show that California’s Andy Foster took one look at and said no.
It’d be one thing if this was just some lazy armchair quarterbacking the morning after, but what happened Saturday was utterly predictable. Look at the comments section from MMA Fighting’s interview with Evander Holyfield from Wednesday. Holyfield is a living legend of the ring who deserves respect, but he’s also 58 years old and the footage says it all. Human beings who are healthy enough to fight don’t speak like that. It was sad to watch, and his snail-slow open workout from Wednesday afternoon wasn’t any more encouraging.
It didn’t take a fortune teller to guess what would happen when you threw that man into the ring with an aggressive power puncher like Vitor Belfort. Yet somehow the officials in Florida saw these clips — and many others like them — and still found justification in their minds to sanction a near 60-year-old prizefighter to go out there and potentially get pummeled with more life-altering brain damage from an athlete 14 years his junior? Inexcusable. Everyone involved is lucky that referee Samuel Burgos pulled the trigger when he did, otherwise Triller and Florida officials could’ve had a much worse situation on their hands. The sight of a 58-year-old Holyfield getting knocked out cold is not one that anybody ever needs to see.
This isn’t a condemnation of Belfort. He did his job and I hope he gets his big payday against a Paul brother or Oscar De La Hoya. But for everybody other than the Belfort family, what we saw on Saturday was nothing to celebrate. And at some point, someone involved in this whole celebrity boxing carnival needs to find the courage draw a line in the sand that already should’ve been drawn by Florida commission officials this past weekend.