Tito Ortiz has ridden off into the sunset to join the likes of Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and many others in the land of retired champions who fought when MMA was struggling and continued to fight on as it grew into an era of prominence, with levels of exposure they never would have dared dream possible during the lean years of the sport.
Of all the fighters of past generations, perhaps none has seen the wars—and the damage that comes with them—that Wanderlei Silva has.
Silva has spent time at both ends of the spectrum. As Shakespeare said, “we all play many parts,” and Silva has spent time as both the hammer and the nail.
Much of the “tarnish” on his career began while he was in Pride, when he proved his worth to the company as the reigning middleweight king of the world by jumping at any chance to fight, even against heavyweights.
A KO loss to Mirko Cro-Cop begat another KO loss to Dan Henderson, and thus began a downhill slide that every great fighter suffers on a long enough timeline. When you consider just how long Silva has been fighting, and the style in which he fought damn near every fight, it’s amazing he’s still fighting today with any success at all.
As he continues to compete in what is the twilight of his career, losing as many as he wins, the question becomes: how will he be remembered?
Will he be viewed cruelly in hindsight as an overrated fighter who saw his career falter when he was finally exposed to top-level competition?
Or will he be remembered as a true great of the sport, who fought anyone put in front of him and carved his throne out of the names and reputations of the best fighters of his time?
Much is made about how a fighter ends his career, and in truth Silva will not escape this bit of conventional criticism. Many have short-term memories when it comes to a fighter's achievements, and his failings seem to never be very far from the corner of our eye.
Since the fall of Pride FC, Silva has enjoyed only a moderate level of success. He’s suffered violent knockout losses to Chris Leben and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and the latter is perhaps what many will remember as a true sign of Silva’s decline: when he was at the height of his power, he finished Jackson on two separate occasions, and each time he did so in highlight reel fashion.
When considering a fighter like Silva, who was at one time the most successful and destructive fighter in all of MMA, his fall is what will be remembered simply because of the drastic contrast it provides, constantly attached to and weighed against his reign.
But all of this sounds like I am doing the fans of the sport, and the man himself, a gross injustice.
Truth be told, Silva is one of the most popular and enduring fighters of an era nearly passed. Fans love a great fight, and they know and love what Silva brings to each and every fight: he brings the axe, and he swings it mercilessly, without a single care for himself or any level of defeat, no matter how violently he may suffer.
And even though that blade has been dulled with the passage of time and the steel is knocked and notched by countless battles, it is always with him, because it belongs to him alone. Silva serves the axe faithfully, and it in turn serves him for as long as he cares to wield it.
So, how will Silva be remembered when he retires?
He’ll be remembered as the man who, in his prime, annihilated Kazushi Sakuraba on three separate occasions and eventually was annihilated, near the end, by Chris Leben.
He’ll be remembered as the man who destroyed Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on two different nights during the glory days of Pride, and was in turn destroyed by Jackson long after Pride had fallen.
He’ll be remembered defeating and being defeated by heavyweights, by his Fight of the Year performance against Chuck Liddell, by his many records in Pride (most consecutive wins in Pride history and most knockouts in Pride history among them), and much more.
But above all else, he’ll be remembered for the purity of his motives and the clarity of his intent; consistently personified by the axe he always brought into battle and how violently he used it to carve out his place in history.
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