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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Where does Silva go after Saturday?

By Jake Rossen

Anderson Silva
It's easy to get bored when you're on top of the world. Just ask Anderson Silva.
If the shaky Portuguese-to-English translations on the Internet are to be believed, Anderson Silva -- the UFC's current middleweight champion -- aspires to participate in only six more fights before letting himself go and yelling advice from the sidelines.

Forgetting for a moment that retirement in athletics is usually as permanent as Hollywood unions -- fighters in particular have a chemical addiction to the adrenaline dump of a packed arena -- it's not difficult to see why Silva might be considering the appeal of central obesity and vicarious participation.

He really doesn't have anyone left to fight.

Anderson Silva and James Irvin
In his last fight, Anderson Silva, left, dismantled light heavyweight James Irvin in under a round.
Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin represented the two most substantial threats to Silva's title; both were thoroughly and impressively throttled. Nate Marquardt would probably be discussed as a dark horse for contention, but Silva force-fed him leather, too.

Michael Bisping? A rising contender, but title contention should be predicated on actually beating a top-10 opponent or three. Demian Maia? He's ahead of Bisping in terms of quality opposition, but fans aren't warm to him yet. Yushin Okami? An impressive 6-1 record in the UFC and some unfinished business with Silva -- Okami "won" via a disqualification when Silva illegally struck him on the ground years back -- but a conservative approach.

Mostly justifiable fights, but do they really get anyone excited -- Silva included?

The only really worthy challenger at this point is Paulo Filho, and unless the UFC is willing to make an offer neither can refuse -- unlikely, considering the limited box office appeal of the fight -- it doesn't seem possible the two will put their friendship on the shelf for five rounds.

After Saturday's bout with Patrick Cote at UFC 90, the options for Silva become less about adding sheen to his title and more about the kind of one-off, special-event fights that would likely add very little to an already storied legacy. (It's worth noting, though, that a win over Cote would tie the record for consecutive wins in the Octagon -- eight -- and another after that would set the new record. Maybe Silva is a stat guy. You never know.)

If the Brazilian adheres to his commitment and steps in the cage only five more times after Saturday, it's any fan's sincere hope that the fights aren't against an endless parade of uninspired competition. (While Cote's five-fight win streak is impressive, it's difficult to forget he went winless in his first four UFC appearances.)

Some options that could prove interesting:

Cung Le

Cung Le
Cung Le, above, is one of a select few mixed martial artists with a striking game on par with Anderson Silva's.
There's probable interest on the UFC's part in Le, who has only two bouts remaining on his Strikeforce contract. While his MMA career has been more or less a series of live sparring contests against mismatched opposition, there's an undeniable thrill in watching his unorthodox san shou style at work in a cage. We've never seen Le sweat on his feet, and we've rarely seen Silva shoot for a takedown. It's about as close as you can get to a guarantee of stand-up viciousness without a state investigation.

Too bad that, at 35, Le is nearing the end of his competitive years and is preoccupied with film work; if the UFC brought him in, it would be for an immediate match with Silva or nothing, and that's a hard fight to hype for a Le-ignorant UFC audience.

Georges St. Pierre

A pure novelty fight and nothing more: Silva won't earn much credit for facing -- or beating -- the smaller fighter. The risk/reward ratio favors St. Pierre, who will be lauded for taking on the challenge and has a built-in rationale for a loss.

St. Pierre's true chances are better than most would expect, though: Silva's biggest weakness is his takedown defense, and St. Pierre has smothered some of his division's most credible grapplers. He's also reputed to be a nightmare in the gym, even among larger athletes.

Does the UFC want its peerless champion to be bested by a smaller competitor? Maybe, if you consider both Silva's insistence that he's nearly out the door and the younger St. Pierre's commitment to the sport.

The light heavyweight champion

Watching Silva run roughshod over James Irvin might have provided some fleeting amusement, but there's little point in taking the risk of facing bigger athletes without some kind of endgame.

Forrest Griffin -- or whoever the current 205-pound champion is at the time -- provides Silva with a rare opportunity to face divisional titleholders in three different weight classes.

Silva's chances are probably best against the current champ, though Griffin's ability to drag opponents into wars of attrition is impressive. But the odds that this fight happens become exponentially less if Rashad Evans takes the title from Griffin: There can't be much public interest in watching Evans tackle the smaller Silva time and again.

Randy Couture

An obnoxious example of box office over logic, sure … but who wouldn't pay a premium to see it?

After a heavyweight tournament run in the first half of '09, there are precious few options for Couture's third (and presumably final) fight in the Octagon. The possibility of a bout with Fedor Emelianenko is about as substantial as a plume of smoke; it's within reason Couture could lose to the bigger Brock Lesnar and/or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the best heavyweight whose name doesn't rhyme with "Bedor."

Couture, who usually shows up for bouts in the 220s, isn't a large heavyweight and could easily cut to 205; Silva is an imposing middleweight who would still need to lose some size to make that mark. They're two of the UFC's most decorated and respected champions, and it's rare that two all-time greats wind up being contemporaries -- think of the constant fantasy talk over Muhammad Ali versus Mike Tyson or Sugar Ray Robinson versus Roy Jones.

And after the fight, perhaps Couture could impart some wisdom on the subject of retirement.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to