In the first instalment of a series we’ll be running all week, I take a look at my top five fighters in UFC history. I’ll be assessing their career, listing their achievements, and then hoping to persuade you as to why they belong in this list. It’s going to be a controversial one, but who doesn’t love a bit of drama.
Note: This list will only include fighters that have competed under the UFC banner – so no Fedor.
Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva
Weight Class: Middleweight/Light Heavyweight
Record: 34-8 (1 NC)
Key Stat: Longest reigning champion in UFC history
Anderson Silva started out his MMA career in his native Brazil, fighting twice in one night on June 15th 1997. The young Silva won both fights, but did not return to the sport for almost three years, when he did make his return (once again fighting in Brazil), it was in a losing effort.
After this fight however he would become much more active, going on a nine fight winning streak. After picking up his first victory in Japan (also his first fight outside of Brazil), Silva earned the right to face Hayato Sakurai at Shooto 7, winning the Shooto Middleweight Championship via unanimous decision. Silva did not defend this title… vacating it after he signed with…
Pride Fighting Championship
The Spider came into Pride on the back of a six fight win streak, which he managed to extend to nine, starching his first three opponents, including former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton. Newton shot in for a takedown but was caught flush by a flying knee from Silva, collapsing as Silva finished the fight with strikes.
However Silva would lose his next fight, despite being the heavy favourite, being submitted late in the first round. It was after this fight that Silva would switch camps, initially losing his motivation for the sport, switching to Brazilian Top Team and branching out to other promotions around the globe.
Silva would pick up two wins before facing Lee Murray in London for the Cage Rage Middleweight Championship, a fight which he would win via unanimous decision.
In his next fight Silva, would return to Pride, taking on Ryo Chonan, losing via flying scissor heel hook (I know, incredible), in the third round. After this fight Silva would be released from Pride, and would never fight for the organisation again.
The Brazilian would then defend his Cage Rage title twice befor facing Yushin Okami, a top name in the sport at the time, at Rumble on the Rocks 8. However he would be disqualified for kicking Okami while both of his knees were on the ground. It was a loss that Silva protested, claiming that the rules had not been explained to him.
The loss to Okami would be his last for over six years, as The Spider would go on to amass an incredible 17 fight winning streak. He defended his Cage Rage championship once more before vacating the belt to join the UFC.
His first fight for the UFC was against Ultimate Fighter Season 1 contestant Chris Leben, who had racked up an impressive five fight win streak in the organisation, and had predicted that he would KO Silva in a pre-fight interview. Silva was an unknown commodity in the United States at the time, however it only took 49 seconds for him to make his mark, emphatically knocking out his opponent with a flurry of pinpoint strikes.
After this fight the UFC released a poll, asking fans to choose who they thought The Spider should face next, and the overwhelming favourite was reigning Middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
Silva once agains showed off his almost unrivaled skills, stopping Franklin just under three minutes into the very first round. A knee from a muay thai clinch broke Franklin’s nose, forcing him to crumple to the ground with John McCarthy stepping in to stop the fight.
Silva would pick up his second performance of the night bonus for the knockout of Franklin, picking up two more of the bonuses over his next three fights before taking on Pride Welterweight champion Dan Henderson in a unification bout.
In an incredibly exciting fight, Silva would pick up the win via submission in the second round, collecting yet another performance of the night bonus as well as his first fight of the night bonus.
Light Heavyweight fights and UFC title records
Silva would move up to Light Heavyweight and defeat James Irvin just over a minute into the first round. Moving back down to Middleweight Silva would once again defend his championship, tying the record for most consecutive wins in the UFC, before going on to break this record in his next fight against Patrick Cote.
Silva would break the record for most consecutive UFC title defenses in a victory over Demian Maia, at this point Silva looked almost unstoppable as he reigned atop the UFC. However his next fight, against Chael Sonnen, would reveal some chinks in the armour.
Sonnen dominated The Spider for the entirety of their first championship fight, looking like he was just minutes away from taking the title away, before Silva locked in a triangle choke, almost a hail mary. He managed to submit Sonnen and retain his championship. Following this fight he avenged his loss to Yuhsin Okami as well as picking up a far more decisive victory over Sonnen.
Overconfidence and downfall
It was around this time, as he extended his streak atop the UFC Middleweight division to 11, that Silva began to show signs of overconfidence and showboating during his fights. It was this showboating that would prove to be his downfall, underestimating unbeaten opponent Chris Weidman.
It was this bout with Weidman that would prove to be his last as champion, as numerous times during the fight Silva would taunt the All American, his lack of power and stand up ability. During one of these taunts, Weidman would catch Silva flush on the chin, knocking The Spider down before finishing him with vicious ground and pound. Pulling off a huge upset victory and ending the longest title reign in UFC history at a total of 2,457 days.
From here, a loss in 2013, Silva is yet to recover. In a rematch for his title against now Champion Weidman, Silva suffered an absolutely horrific leg break which would have been the end of many fighters careers.
However Silva would return from this gruesome injury just over one year later to face Nick Diaz at UFC 183. The fight was one of the more unique in UFC history, with Diaz openly taunting The Spider, but Silva not looking to engage during these moments. Despite originally collecting a unanimous decision win, the result was overturned after it was revealed that Silva had tested positive for drostanolone and androsterone.
Despite his claims that the steroids were just a result of a tainted sex pill, Silva was retroactively suspended for a year. In his first fight following the ban Silva faced Michael Bisping and once again controversy followed.
At the end of the third round Silva dropped Bisping with a flying knee (essentially knocking the Brit out cold), as he was signalling to referee Herb Dean that he had lost his mouthpiece. Silva went on to celebrate what he thought was a win, however Dean insisted the fight was not over and the two continued, with Bisping picking up a unanimous decision victory.
It was now almost four years since Silva’s last win, and he would go on to lose once more to Daniel Cormier on an extremely short notice fight at Light Heavyweight, stepping in to replace the suspended Jon Jones at UFC 200 on just 48 hours notice. Silva put up an admirable display, however once the fight was taken to the ground Silva didn’t stand a chance, with DC eventually grinding out a decision win.
Finally, we come to his last fight, in which he finally returned to the win column. However as now seems to be a theme, this fight once again ended in controversy. The Spider picked up a decision win over Derek Brunson, however many fans and pundits feel the fight should have gone another way.
Accolades and acheivements
Despite his fall from grace in the past few years, it cannot be denied that Anderson Silva is still one of the biggest names in MMA, and will always be considered not only a pioneer of the sport but also one of the best to ever step inside the UFC Octagon. Unfortunately it was his own mistakes that ultimately led to his demise.
Silva’s record and resume stand head and shoulders above nearly all of his fellow competitors. The list is so long it feels almost ridiculous to list it all… but I’m going to give it a try:
- Cage Rage champion
- Three successful defences
- Shooto Middleweight Champion
- UFC Middleweight Champion
- 10 title defences
- Unified UFC Middleweight Championship and Pride Welterweight Championship
- Fight of the Night (x4)
- Knockout of the Night (x7)
- Submission of the Night (x2)
- Longest title reign in UFC history
- Longest win streak in UFC history (16)
- Most finishes in UFC Middleweight history (11)
- Most finishes in UFC title fights (9)
- Most knockdowns in UFC history (17)
- Most knockdowns in UFC title fights (11)
- Most ‘Knockout of the Night’ awards in UFC history (7)
- Most knockouts in UFC title fights (7)
- Most wins in UFC Middleweight history (13)
- ESPN Knockout of the Year 2011 (vs Vitor Belfort)
- World MMA Awards – Fighter of the Year (2008, 2011)
- World MMA Awards – Knockout of the Year 2011 (vs Vitor Belfort)
… aaaaaaaaaaaaaand breathe.
Anderson Silva is one of the greatest fighters in UFC history, and may well deserve a place higher on this list based on his natural talent, however I feel that his overconfidence was ultimately his downfall, following by two drug suspensions and four consecutive losses, I couldn’t justify placing him any higher on this list.