'Spider' squashed, underdog special, more
Three facts about the "best fighter in the world," an education brought to you courtesy of Saturday's UFC 112 event in Abu Dhabi:
1. The "best fighter in the world" will not engage a 1.5-dimensional jiu-jitsu stylist on the feet but will instead express anger and frustration at the grappler for not making it easier to assault him with fists and knees. This will remain true even when the jiu-jitsu stylist has one eye swollen shut and the desert air is so oppressive that managing a clinch or latching a submission would be nearly impossible.
2. The "best fighter in the world" has such contempt for his opponent, the spectators and his employers that he will spend time seizing and convulsing as though he were being exorcised of an evil spirit. His fans will call this "showmanship." Objective viewers will call it "annoying."
3. The "best fighter in the world" will commit the most disturbing infraction of the rules -- written or not -- in combat sports next to an outright fix: He will not fight to the best of his ability and will not attempt to win the fight at all times. Instead, he will coerce the crowd into chanting the name of a fighter sitting ringside who may or may not be his next opponent.
This is how badly Anderson Silva ruptured his reputation Saturday: He so disillusioned the audience that they began to offer vocal support for a hypothetical opponent three to six months before he would even enter the cage.
Against Demian Maia, a man whose consciousness he could easily confiscate, Silva gyrated around the mat like a spinning top and beckoned Maia to play his game.
Maia did eventually wade in, but only after 20-plus minutes of hamming. What he should've done was flop to his back and chastise Silva for not falling into his guard. It would've been just as absurd as Silva's display.
Instead, he shuffled while Silva danced, while Silva slipped into Capoeira, while Silva mimicked Royce Gracie's distinctive hands-low, push-kick-to-knee stance. Anderson Silva is of great amusement to Anderson Silva.
What we've learned in the Maia, Thales Leites and Patrick Cote bouts -- snoozers all -- is that Silva wants to play a zero-sum game of risk. His comfort level is in countering, and if a fighter refuses to cooperate, he will refuse to initiate an attack. This is an effective way of preserving brain cells but a catastrophic strategy for keeping seats filled. UFC brass handing him Forrest Griffin or anyone who can "bring the fight to him" is an embarrassing conceit. Why shouldn't he be bringing the fight himself?
This is audience-killing stuff, the kind of thing that sours attitudes and prompts apologies from the host of suburban pay-per-view fight parties.
Summary is best left to announcer Mike Goldberg, who sweats hyperbole through every pore and is fond of saying that "Anderson Silva is on another planet." He certainly is.
Next for Silva: A sports psychologist.
Next for Maia: The respect afforded to a fighter who tried his best and took himself and the fight seriously.
Next for B.J. Penn: Beating virtually everyone at 155 pounds, with the possible exception of the flickering Edgar.
The hummingbird award: To Edgar, for buzzing in and out of Penn's radius and making his lack of size an asset rather than a handicap.
The subversive control award: The UFC, for being able to hire its own officials in Abu Dhabi and conveniently forgetting to pack Dana White nemesis Steve Mazzagatti.
The Griswolds award: Ferrari World, the only theme park more puzzling in its uselessness than Wally World.
The Achilles' heel award: The Gracies, for succumbing to leg kicks in another high-profile fight.
New questions: Special Anderson Silva edition
Q: How do you "punish" Silva?
A: With his third bizarre performance in four fights, Silva has manufactured a nearly impossible problem for his employers: How do you reprimand a record-breaking world champion who you've spent hours of television and millions of dollars touting as the best in the world?
Cutting him loose is bad business. You don't spend years hyping a man and then gift-wrap him for competing promotions; shelving him and playing contractual jiu-jitsu would be a criminal waste of the most gifted striker in the sport.
It's clear that Silva thinks his business is done at 185 pounds, an attitude evidenced by the blunt disgust in his body language during his last three defenses. Strip him and mandate a permanent move to the 205-pound division, where there will be no end of fighters looking to get in his face, plant him, or press the action. If he refuses to fight friend Lyoto Machida, send him to the heavyweights. Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin aren't about to stand and blink at him for five seconds, let alone five rounds.
Q: Is Silva bad for all business?
A: Silva's performance Saturday may have made him the most divisive fighter in the sport: A portion of the audience will continue to be intrigued by his eccentric style of striking and unflinching attitude, while a (much larger) sample will take their frustrations out on their cable company.
As an exhausted Dana White solemnly pointed out to media following the event Saturday, it's the main event that follows audiences out to the exit. A good one can erase a limp undercard; a bad one can erase the memory of all the fighters who delivered gutsy performances. And truly foul main events can have a snowball effect on business as a whole, as evidenced by 1996's deadly Dan Severn/Ken Shamrock II bout that gouged the UFC's buy rates and led, indirectly, to its near-death on cable.
Silva does more than embarrass himself with this performance art: He casts a cloud over his entire sport.
Q: What motivated Silva's behavior?
A: Through translator Ed Soares, Silva claimed that he "didn't know what got into me" against Maia. Likely as not, Silva decided to swagger for a round or two to make things more interesting against a man not even a quarter of the striker he is -- and then froze a bit when fatigue began to set in.
Coast to coast theory No. 2: Silva, constantly petitioning the UFC for new challenges at heavyweight and now welterweight, is expressing his apathy for "undeserving" challengers by appearing barely plugged in to the action.
Theory No. 3: He's just a weirdo.
What Silva may not understand is that sluggish, circus-style offense may put him in more danger than going nose-to-nose. Every minute he allows the fight to continue is another minute Maia could connect with a looping punch -- as he did a couple of times late in the bout -- or find a novel way to get him to the ground. You should never be locked in a cage with a prizefighter for any longer than you have to be.
Q: Is Silva breaking the rules?
A: The Unified Rules make specific reference to timidity -- the act of avoiding engagement. Silva peppered the monotony of his laps with inventive strikes, but as the fight wore on, he became less and less violent. In the fifth round, referee Dan Miragliotta threatened to deduct a point if Silva continued, but it was too late: The fight was already dead.
Miragliotta could've made a case for point deductions earlier in the fight. If he had, Silva would have been looking at the ultimate consequence of his behavior: disqualification.
This and that
• Never one to miss a press op, Chael Sonnen told MMAJunkie.com over the weekend that blemished middleweight champion Silva is a "dirtbag" and that he has a "moral obligation to beat him up." Maybe he can back that up and maybe he can't, but the UFC would have no reason to believe Sonnen would do the staring contest thing for five rounds.
• Junkie also reported that Abu Dhabi was good for a $3.5 million live gate and over 11,000 attendees at Yas Island's Ferrari World. That's one very expansive disaster site.
• It's an absolute shame that Edgar's pitch-perfect performance against Penn on Saturday wound up eclipsed by Silva's controversies. Edgar wound himself up, came in, got out, and barely gave Penn a chance to react. It was Penn's first loss at lightweight in more than eight years, and probably one that deserves an immediate rematch while Gray Maynard and Florian determine a No. 1 contender.