UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva has literally been unstoppable since his Octagon debut back in 2006, winning 13 consecutive fights without ever tasting defeat. In the process he's likely smashed just about as many promotional records as he has championship contender aspirations among the division's elite.
Only four men in 34 career appearances have bested the Brazilian. And there are many who believe that number should actually be three because of a controversial loss to Silva's opponent this weekend, Yushin Okami, more than five years ago wasn't really, well, real.
It's been a hot topic of conversation for years and that discussion has recently reached a fevered pitch in the run up to this weekend's UFC 134: "Rio" main event, which features the long-awaited rematch between the pair. Silva and Okami competed side-by-side for the same promotion for about a half-decade and never managed to again cross paths to provide a definitive conclusion to their open-ended debate.
That all changes at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when both fighters step inside the Octagon to deliver their closing arguments. It's finally time to find out who was right and who was wrong all along.
Anderson Silva (30-4 MMA, 13-0 UFC):
Big wins: Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen
Bigger losses: Ryo Chonan, Yushin Okami and Demian Maia (a fight that he actually won)
Biggest strength: Striking
Biggest weakness: Wrestling
What you need to know: All-around bad ass, can finish anyone at anytime and is among the very best to ever compete in MMA
What's at stake?: Legacy
Yushin Okami (26-5 MMA, 10-2 UFC)
Big wins: Anderson Silva, Mark Munoz and Nate Marquardt
Bigger losses: Jake Shields, Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen
Biggest strength: Wrestling
Biggest weakness: Slow starter
What you need to know: Strong as an ox, very well rounded and patient, perhaps to a fault
What's at stake?: Just deserts
Silva and Okami first met in the opening round of the Rumble on the Rock eight-man welterweight tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Jan. 20, 2006. It didn't last long, when less than three minutes into the 175-pound fight, Silva uncorked an illegal kick to the face of Okami while the Japanese fighter was on his knees in the guard of the Brazilian. The fight was stopped and later called off altogether when Okami declared that he was unable to continue. "Thunder" was awarded the win, which Silva described as a "cowardly" way out of the fight.
Okami would go on to lose in the next round to eventual tournament winner, and former number one UFC welterweight contender, Jake Shields, via decision. Silva, meanwhile, headed back to the Cage Rage promotion where he scored one the most insane standing-elbow knockouts ever seen over Tony Fryklund.
Shortly after those individual performances, both fighters would join the UFC fray just three months apart, but never met again. Until Saturday.
How they stack up:
On paper, Okami is tailor-made to finally end the dominant reign of Silva, who, with a win, can claim that he has beaten every single worthy 185-pound contender in the world without question. He possesses the powerful wrestling base, judo skills and unorthodox approach that have the ability to give Silva fits and neutralize his biggest weapons, which can come from any angle at any moment when the dynamic striker is allowed to remain upright. Olympic-level wrestler Dan Henderson began to outline the blue print to defeat Silva in the first round of their bout at UFC 82 back in 2008 and takedown-savvy Sonnen drafted a three round addendum last year, but both men ultimately came up short in the end. Okami is not nearly as accomplished in the wrestling department as Sonnen, but he is very sound and technical.
On the flip side, Silva is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He is perhaps the most dangerous and unpredictable fighter the sport has ever seen. He can end fights horizontally, vertically and probably even diagonally if he desired. His long limbs and slender frame allow him to keep his distance and land lightening-fast strikes that hurt grown men terribly more often than not. If those skills weren't enough, he is also an underrated jiu-jitsu blackbelt, which has bailed him out on several rare occasions (Travis Lutter, Henderson and Sonnen) when he has been put on his back. In a fight with Silva, opponents need to pick their poison. They just need to choose wisely or else suffer the consequences.
There is just one drawback to this fight: it's about two years too late.
Okami is a methodical, slow starter. It typically takes him a while to get a feel for his opponent and get in a position where he is comfortable to let loose and do his thing. Similarly, Silva rarely if ever charges out of his corner and mixes it up.
In fact, his performances against Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia, while dominant, were incredibly revealing ... and boring. Fans, like his opponents, never really know what to expect from Silva. It's those three disappointing dances -- and that's what they truly turned out to be -- combined with Okami's pace that could blend to create utter disaster.
If this turns into a chess match early, the good news is that it is a 25-minute championship fight. And the Brazilian fans will more than likely voice their displeasure if the action that involves their national MMA hero is dull for any extended periods of time. Don't expect Silva to let them stay disappointed for long.
It's no secret that Okami has trained with Sonnen extensively for this fight. That can be good and bad. Okami might feel that he has a proven strategy to win based on Sonnen's success for 23 minutes against Silva, as well as getting his input directly day-in and day-out in training. It could also work against him, however, if he is so set on executing that one game plan that he is unable to do anything else if Silva's strategy negates it. Mike Tyson said it best, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." Okami must have a Plan B.
Silva has returned home to a hero's welcome. Next to Vitor Belfort, he's the pride of Brazil. It has embraced him, showered him with affection and even featured him in commercials. He is not only expected to win, but to do so impressively. Anything short of that, I'd imagine, would be considered a failure on some level. Silva needs to win and win big. That pressure could force him into situations that he otherwise normally would avoid or engage at times when he normally would not. It's nearly impossible to predict how the crowd will affect his performance, but it will certainly have an impact of some kind.
Decision for either fighter. Silva by anything he wants. Okami finishing Silva in Brazil would be a catastrophic catastrophe. Riot police are hopefully on standby just in case because anything is possible in MMA. Just ask Matt Serra.
As stated earlier, if Silva wins this weekend he has effectively wiped out an entire division at least once. Only rematches with Sonnen and Henderson, or "super fights" with 205-pound fighters (or other champions) would appear to be in his future with a win this weekend.
Potentially on the Fox network no less.
Silva, 36, is self-admittedly a few fights and/or a handful of years away from tying a ribbon around his illustrious MMA career. He has made that crystal clear, often describing his desire to enter boxing and test his "Sweet Science" skills against the like of Roy Jones Jr., among others.
He needs to make the most out of what remains.
Okami is the only person standing in the way of this storybook, and lucrative, ending to a brilliant body of work. And he is a formidable foe, a top five-ranked talent, who is capable of beating Silva and any other fighter in the division for that matter.
He's (kinda) done it once already, now he gets the chance to do it all over again, for real this time.