Sports is like politics. People can twist the facts to fit whichever narrative they wish to be true. It is a branch of confirmation bias and general biases toward our favorite fighters and against those we dislike. Yes. The Greatest of All Time in any sport will always be debatable since it is in fact a matter of opinion. But this seven part series presents as lucid an argument for the best MMA fighter of all time that you will find anywhere on the Internet. And if you disagree, jump right in and let’s have an open debate. But just remember one thing….sports, like politics, may boil down to what one wants to believe….but it also does contain cold hard facts. This list is not about favorite or media darlings or the most popular fighters, it’s about objective facts. And by the end of this series, the evidence will show who is as factually close to being the greatest fighter of all time as possible. The seven parts of this series are as follows:
Part 1: The Honorable Mentions
Part 2: The Notorious Mention
Part 3: Fedor Emelianenko vs. The UFC
Part 4: Explanation of the fourth greatest fighter of all time.
Part 5: Explanation of the third greatest fighter of all time.
Part 6: Explanation of the second greatest fighter of all time.
Part 7: Explanation of the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
Let’s begin part 4.
Part 4: Down Came the Rain and Washed the Spider Out
The mighty, mighty, Spider climbed up the “Greatest” route,
Down came the rain and washed the Spider out,
They said he was the GOAT since he had the greatest reign,
The L’s before and since make this claim yield to the rain.
I know. Anderson Silva all the way down at #4. I have some serious ‘splaining to do. Hopefully you will give me the opportunity to do so. Before I get to the foundations and the specific contents of my argument, for those pressed for time, I can sum up this entire placement with a statement followed by a question:
Statement: There is a difference between being the greatest fighter of all time and having the greatest title run of all time…or for that matter, the most impressive winning streak of all time.
Question: If you are someone who still believes Anderson Silva is the GOAT, can you honestly say you have made the distinction described in the statement above?
Now, let me begin with the two foundations for my forthcoming argument.
- Being the best in the history of your division is different from being the best in the history of the entire sport.
- In MMA, losses matter equally as much as wins.
#2 is especially so. Just look at the UFC. In the UFC, there is something known as the three-fight curse. Where if someone loses three straight times, they are immediately in danger of being cut. Look, Anderson Silva is the greatest middleweight of all time. You will get no argument from me on this point. He is also arguably the greatest CHAMPION of all time because of his 10-fight defense record and the fashion most of those wins took place. But in a sport where losing is so significant, so glaring in comparison to other records, and when the conversation of the GOAT leaves so little room for error, the errors that exist cannot be ignored.
Anderson Silva has erred not once, not twice, not three times, but eight times. Eight. Can a fighter with eight losses be the greatest of all time? Abso-f’n-lutely. But those he is compared to better either have much less notable wins or at least a few losses. The three fighters who will come after him avoid both of these disqualifiers.
There are two arguments people, including UFC president Dana White, make when saying Silva is the best of all time. First, his record number of title defenses, and second, the level of dominance in which he performed. Both of these arguments are contingent on whom it is he faced. While I am not saying that Anderson Silva faced bums…anyone who competes in a UFC title fight is someone that could be argued to be an “elite” fighter. The truth of the matter is, though, there may be no single fighter he faced during his reign who coming into the fight was not a clear underdog. Not necessarily because Silva was so dominant, but just because they were simply not given much of a chance to win. Silva’s biggest hallmark victories were against Rich Franklin twice, a fighter who had only loss once before facing Silva; Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson, and Demian Maia. Some may argue Yushin Okami was a hallmark victory, but Okami would actually lose to most of his elite-level competition and most of his wins came outside of the UFC. But those guys are definitely legit names. Some of the others, while respectable, are not anywhere near Silva’s level. Are we really picking Forrest Griffin, Patrick Cote, James Irvin, Stephan Bonner, or Thales Leites to defeat Anderson Silva? Leites came in with a 14-1 record and even managed to take Siva the distance, but his skill level before and after his fight with Silva brings major questions on whether or not he was ready to be the best in the world at the weight class.
Then, there is Chael Sonnen. It’s tough to categorize Sonnen. If he is considered elite, it feels to be lowering the standard somewhat, but on the other hand, to dismiss him as just another opponent is to dismiss the level that we have all seen Sonnen being capable of competing at. But regardless of Chael Sonnen’s status as an elite fighter, he is in the middle of one of the biggest moments of Anderson Silva’s legacy.
One legacy moment for Anderson Silva is the ridiculous performance Silva turned in against Forrest Griffin, which to this day, is the most out of place I have seen a fighter look in the octagon. Forrest Griffin, God bless him and his heart, did not belong in the octagon with Anderson Silva. Silva’s highlight KO straight kick over Belfort is another moment that will endure long after The Spider retires. The Griffin moment, though, was like watching a ninja turtle dismantle a foot soldier in an insignificant scene in a TMNT episode. It stands above all his other individual performances.
As for Chael Sonnen, he outperformed Silva for 4.8 rounds. Not two, not three, not even four, but 4.8 rounds. This both hurts and helps Silva’s legacy. It definitely helps it because it showed Silva’s clutchness, his heart of a champion, and his knack for winning even in nearly insurmountable circumstances. But when I have him placed at #4, you can be sure that this performance is another reason why. NONE of the three men remaining fighters on this list EVER, EVER got worked like this. And yes, that, in combination with eight official losses DO matter in discussing the GOAT.
Although Silva has lost eight times, his last three losses are not being considered too heavily on this list. The second loss to Weidman was a freak injury and had very little to do with Weidman himself. Yes, he checked the kick, but are we really going to dispute that this was a freak occurrence? Kicks are checked all the time. There aren’t any skilled TKO kick-checkers out there, it was a fluke. Following this lost, not only was Silva out for a year, but it was a question as to whether or not he would be able to fight again. At 40 years old and coming off of a near career-ending leg injury, it is no wonder why he would go on to lose a controversial decision to Bisping and then get dominated by Cormier in a fight on two-days notice. So while these losses do still matter in his GOAT standing, they do not matter nearly as much as his other five losses. The first loss to Weidman was not a fluke. Weidman caught him. Simple as that. What Anderson was doing was not just showboating, it’s his deliberate style of countering. This speaks to his fight IQ, his strategy, and his overconfidence. None of those things are flukey. Weidman knocked him out clean in every sense of the word. Silva also has three losses in Pride, and no, he was not a rookie. He had more than enough fights under his belt for us to fully consider those losses when evaluating his legacy in comparison to the other GOAT contenders. This does not mean he was at the level he was when the UFC middleweight champion, but it does mean he doesn’t get a free pass for these losses. Eight losses, of different circumstances and at different points in the fighter’s career, but eight losses nonetheless; along with being dominated for 4.8 rounds by Chael Sonnen, are major factors when eliminating Silva from being the GOAT.
It’s hard to hold Silva’s lack of competition in the middle weight division against him. In fact, you can’t do that. All you can ask is that if he is so much greater than this competition, to prove it. For this reason, if you want to argue that Anderson Silva is the greatest CHAMPION of all time, you may very well be right. If you want to argue that he had the greatest and most dominant streak in MMA or UFC history, you could possibly be right there as well. But his pre-UFC losses, performance against Sonnen, and even his post-championship losses all weigh him down from reaching #1. The post-champion losses matter litle, but little is still more than zero. The reason for this is simple: If Silva would have been given major credit and legacy points for defeating Bisping and definitely Cormier, then it is only fair for it to work both ways for when he loses, even though these particular losses matter little in his GOAT standing.
When people hear the question, “Who is the greatest of all time?” although the words are the same, people hear different questions. Some hear, “Who was the most unbeatable?” Others hear, “Who performed the best in their matches?” Some may also hear, “In their prime, who looked the most impressive?” What the objective person hears is, “Who performed the best, achieved the most, AND was able to remain consistent through ALL STAGES OF THEIR CAREER?” The very first few professional fights of a fighter usually get excused, but once you have been a professional fighter for at or around double digits, i.E. Pride Anderson Silva, his matches in this period are considered as well. It doesn’t mean Silva or anyone else does not improve. That’s what fighters do. They go from rookie to professional. From professional to good fighter. And few are able to go from good to great. And fewer yet go from great to elite. And then the special, special few go from elite to legendary or even GOAT status. Silva is one of those exclusive few. But it is fallacious to only look at the elite to legendary transition and ignore the “good to great” transition, when that was also a part of his career. Therefore, another factor on the GOAT argument is who makes these transitions the fastest to avoid significant damage to their professional record? This is either very unfair or as fair as can be, depending on whom you ask. As you can imagine, I believe it is the latter. It holds everyone to an even playing field instead of having fans subjectively focus only on when a fighter was at his/her very best. Because by that standard, fans will never agree on who performed better or was more dominant. Career-long meritocracy in combination with performance is what we must consider.
One thing that is particularly telling about the Cormier fight is that even with the excuses I have provided for post-injury Silva, Chael Sonnen proved that Cormier most likely would have done the exact same thing even if Silva were in his prime. And it is very reasonable to assume that Cormier’s fight IQ as reflected in his one-loss MMA record and Olympic wrestling career for that matter, would not have allowed the last-minute submission that Sonnen did. And unlike Silva, there is a fighter who dominated Sonnen AND handedly defeated Cormier whose name is still to come. Where he ranks exactly? You’ll just have to wait and see. If you have learned anything from these last two parts, the answer on who ends up on this list and where, might just surprise you.
Part 5 Tomorrow Afternoon