No, not the noun. The acronym. The four words that every athlete aspires to when he or she dreams of playing a sport as a profession.
Greatest of all time.
Fans and pundits alike desperately want to live through a period when the best to ever do it was at the top of his or her game. If we are truly being honest with ourselves, though, it’s extremely tough to definitively state who is worthy of that label in most sports.
Not in mixed martial arts.
One man clearly stands head and shoulders above everyone else who has ever stepped into a cage or ring. And he just so happens to be fighting in the main event of UFC 153 on Saturday night.
Anderson Silva is the sport’s undisputed, unquestioned king. There is no intelligent argument to the contrary. His numbers speak for themselves. I’ve been through them before. No need to dedicate too much space to them, other than to point out a few of his current UFC records. 15 wins to start his UFC career. 15 consecutive wins. 11 championship wins. 10 consecutive successful title defenses.
Is that enough? It should be, but let’s toss in three more. 12 post-fight bonus awards. 13 fights ended inside the distance (tied with Matt Hughes). Longest title reign.
The “Spider” is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, period. Exclamation point, actually. Royce Gracie and Fedor Emelianenko were great at their respective peaks. Georges St-Pierre is great right now. But all three stand several steps behind Silva.
The G.O.A.T. returns to action on Saturday night. He isn’t facing GSP in a clash of pound-for-pound greats. He isn’t facing the number one middleweight contender, who is probably either Michael Bisping or Chris Weidman.
He is, instead, facing “The American Psycho,” in a special non-title affair that will be contested in Stephan Bonnar’s weight class, which is a full 20 pounds north of where Silva reigns supreme. And he is doing it on approximately four weeks notice.
Why would the G.O.A.T. agree to risk his legacy by taking a short-notice, non-title bout against a well rounded fighter in a weight class that Silva has repeatedly stated he wants nothing to do with?
The answer will probably surprise most of you. Silva is doing this to prevent the cancellation of the card, both for the benefit of the UFC, which suffered its first event cancellation last month and also to preserve the experience for his fellow countrymen, which only gets a couple of UFC events each year.
Let me elaborate.
UFC 153 was supposed to be headlined by the bout between featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, with supporting bouts between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Glover Teixeira, and Brazilian megastar Vitor Belfort versus Alan Belcher. Jackson got injured, leaving the UFC without a marquee opponent for Teixeira. Aldo also had to withdraw due to injury, dropping the 145-pound title fight from the card. And Belfort got moved to UFC 152 to take a short-notice bout against 205-pound champ Jon Jones.
It suffices to say that UFC 153 was on life support until Silva called and offered his services. Of course, there was no time for the champion to get his weight comfortably down to meet the limits of his weight class. No problem. Silva offered to fight at 205 pounds. White just needed to find someone to face him with only four weeks to prepare.
Enter Stephan Bonnar.
The finalist from the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter has been a quintessential company man since the day the UFC first offered him a contract. He will fight anyone, anywhere, at any time. He doesn’t pick and choose opponents. He puts on his vale tudo gloves and fights whenever he is needed.
That company-first attitude opened the door for the single most significant opportunity of Bonnar’s already impressive career. If he is able to do what no man in the UFC has ever done before – find a way to defeat Anderson Silva – his legacy will forever change. He will earn a permanent place in the history books as the first man in the UFC to defeat the living legend.
Oh yeah, lucrative future matchups will also follow, forever altering his financial situation.
Make no mistake about it, however. Bonnar has a serious uphill battle in front of him. Silva might be the naturally smaller man. But that didn’t stop the champ from taking two previous light heavyweight bouts during his UFC tenure. Both ended in savage first-round knockout wins for Silva. The first was against world-class slugger James Irvin. The other was against former 205-pound champion Forrest Griffin.
Can Bonnar succeed where Irvin and Griffin failed?
I’ve written it before, and I will write it again. Anything can happen when two highly skilled men, particularly two guys with the stopping power of Silva and Bonnar, step into the Octagon. One counter right that Silva doesn’t see can easily turn out the lights. One lapse of attention can lead to a shin to the jaw. One mistake on the ground can lead to a submission loss. And one glancing or slicing strike can open a cut that forces an instant stoppage in favor of the guy throwing the strike, regardless of who was winning the fight up to that point.
Each of those outcomes are possible. One might even say they are eminently possible.
Bonnar is a monstrous underdog, but he is a very live monstrous underdog, if such a thing exists. The Chicago native is a former Golden Gloves champion. Anyone who knows anything about boxing knows that winning the Golden Gloves out of Chicago is a serious accomplishment. He is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the legendary Carlson Gracie, one of the top BJJ gurus to ever walk the face of the earth.
But Bonnar’s biggest strength is neither his boxing nor ground skills. It’s his heart.
Bonnar has what I like to refer to as “that dog” in him. You know what I’m talking about. A few athletes have “that dog” in them. They are the guys who never quit, despite the perceived certain peril in front of them. They instead keep pressing forward in search of victory – risks to their health and well-being not even an afterthought.
It’s the pit bull mentality. And it makes anyone who truly possesses it dangerous at all times.
Bonnar has proven that he has “that dog” in him in a big way. Remember his all-century fight againt Griffin? I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed two men give more of themselves in a mixed martial arts fight. Neither would quit coming forward, despite individual exhaustion and crimson masks that blurred their vision. They each wanted to taste victory so badly that they were willing to risk everything just for one bite.
Bonnar fights that way each and every time he steps into the Octagon. Saturday night won’t be any different.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know the blueprint for a Bonnar victory. Nor am I going to sit here and pretend that Silva’s blueprint is to do anything special, other than just being himself, which is special without any modifications.
But you know what? This fight is scary for Silva, probably more than any fight he has taken to date in the UFC. It’s a short-notice fight in a weight class that is 20 pounds north of where he reigns supreme. At 37-years-old, it is tougher to get into great shape with less than a full training camp. And there is no doubt that Bonnar will look to make this a gut check, bloody affair – just the kind of fight he loves and the kind of fight that we’ve never seen Silva engage in.
Will it be another spectacular stoppage win for the G.O.A.T.? Or, will Saturday night end with the greatest upset in the history of the UFC?
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below. I’ll be reading, as always.
• 32-4 overall (15-0 UFC)
• 37 years old
• 6’2, 205 lbs
• 15 consecutive UFC wins is most in history
• 12 UFC wins inside the distance (10 by KO/TKO and 2 by submission)
• 50% of those wins were in the first round
• Hasn’t lost since January 20, 2006 (DQ loss to Yushin Okami outside of UFC)
• 11-0 in championship fights (most championship wins in history)
• 10 successful consecutive defenses is the most in UFC history
• 12 post-fight awards (Knockout of the Night 7x, Fight of the Night 3x, Submission of the Night 2x)
• Current layoff is 98 days
• Longest layoff of career is 315 days
• 17-7 overall (8-6 UFC)
• 35 years old
• 6’4, 205 lbs
• Currently in the midst of a three-fight winning streak
• One post-fight award (Fight of the Night)
• Current layoff is 329 days
• Longest layoff of career is 464 days
The Blueprint - Silva vs. Bonnar
Michael DiSanto breaks down the UFC 153 main event between Anderson Silva and Stephan Bonnar