Friday marked the fifth anniversary of Anderson Silva's hostile takeover of the UFC middleweight championship. He has since defended the title a record nine times, often in spectacular fashion, and at the age of 36 continues to accomplish things followers of mixed martial arts have never seen before.
Though he seems capable of fighting forever, Silva's handlers suggest the long-limbed Brazilian sniper will compete just four times more before calling it a career. If that's true, each remaining contest needs to be regarded as an event, something special. With rare exception, this is not a fighter who takes punishment to win. Just the opposite. He dishes it out in ways that scramble the mind.
In recognition of arguably the best fighter in mixed martial arts history, here are five defining moments of Silva's UFC reign.
Of course it starts here. There's no point in separating Silva's equally violent finishes against Rich Franklin. They should be remembered together for their brutal, exacting efficiency. Silva won the UFC belt in his second fight with the organization. Franklin (22-1 at the time of the first encounter in Las Vegas on Oct. 14, 2006) appeared as if he'd never been in a fight before the way Silva treated him. It's quite honestly shocking and a testament to Franklin's resilience that he chose to fight again after having his face rearranged the way it was. In the rematch a year after losing the title, Franklin wasn't any better, and again succumbed to knees from the clinch. The message was clear: don't step in the cage with Silva unless you're willing to suffer the consequences.
Sandwiched between the Franklin exclamation points, Silva was tasked with two title defenses. The first failed to materialize because Travis Lutter couldn't make weight to secure the biggest opportunity of his career. So it would be the second when Silva affirmed his status as UFC champion. Nate Marquardt was thought by some to have a legitimate shot of knocking off Silva. Nope. It wasn't close. Silva toyed with Marquardt and stopped him late in the first.
In terms of perceived threats, none loomed larger over Silva than Dan Henderson. If anyone was unconvinced of Silva's greatness when he stepped into the cage to meet the former Pride middleweight champion on March 1, 2008, they could not have remained so afterwards. Silva felt the brunt of Henderson's challenge early, fending off takedowns and, by most accounts, losing a rare round. But when action shifted to Round 2, Silva was typically brilliant. He denied Henderson's takedowns, unloaded with heavy, accurate punches, and secured a capping rear-naked choke. There was no denying it, Silva was putting together a special run.
Chael Sonnen didn't care what Silva pulled off in past fights, and he fought that way over the course of four-plus rounds in last year's dramatic championship contest in Oakland. Silva took over 200 punches as he drowned underneath the powerful wrestler. But those struggles didn't indicate a decline in skill or lack of will. Not at all. Not after the stunning truth was revealed late in Round 5 with a triangle choke submission. Silva will have to manage something otherworldly in his next four fights to top what he did against Sonnen, and many will rightly regard this summer night as the finest of Silva's career.
As if just to remind us that he's capable of anything, Silva snapped off a front kick to Belfort's jaw in February. It was a brutal finish of a man who had never been knocked cold before, and it said that the Sonnen fight wasn't the start of his decline. Just the opposite. Silva is as dangerous as ever. He reaffirmed that in August against Yushin Okami.