Anderson Silva: The Greatest of All Time?

Anderson Silva

UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva

The case for the UFC middleweight champion as the best ever

Let’s get one thing crystal clear right off the bat: there are no right answers when it comes to the question of “who is the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts?”

There are wrong answers, of course, but once you whittle down the list to names like Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St-Pierre, Randy Couture and the select collection of others most people universally agree belong in the discussion, it’s all a matter of opinion and preference.

One man’s opinion can’t be wrong. It can be different from your own, but if the points are valid and the facts support the argument being made, there is no way to say indefinitely that the man who tops their list is not the greatest of all-time.

My personal choice for that honor is Anderson Silva.

Here’s his resume as it stands heading into Saturday’s main event meeting with Yushin Okami at UFC 134:

Record: 30-4 (13-0 in the UFC)
Streak: 14 fights (13 in the UFC)
Title Defenses: 8 straight in the UFC

Silva is a perfect 9-0 in UFC title fights, having taken the middleweight title from Rich Franklin on his first try back at UFC 64. Yes, I find it creepy that the event was called “Unstoppable” given what has transpired since.

He’s 14-0 overall in title fights, having won both the Shooto and Cage Rage middleweight titles as well; he defended the Cage Rage belt three times.

When you start getting into the stats – the records of the fighters he faced at the time he bet them – Silva’s outstanding career starts to look even more impressive.

For me, that’s where the argument in support of Fedor falls flat. While he certainly fought some of the very best in the world during his incredible 30-fight unbeaten streak, there were a handful of gimmes in there too, as UFC President Dana White pointed out not too long ago.

Silva has a couple of those kind of wins as well; an inexperienced “Jucao” Carneiro, Alexander Otsuka, Curtis Stout. But when you actually go back and look at the list of conquests Silva has collected over his career and the records those fighters carried at the time of they met up with “The Spider,” the statistics are staggering.

Note: Yes, I know I’m kind of a freak of nature for having spent part of my Sunday afternoon compiling this data. I’m weird like that.

Here’s the rundown:

UFC Opponents
Vitor Belfort 19-8
Chael Sonnen 25-10-1
Demian Maia 12-1
Forrest Griffin 16-5
Thales Leites 14-1
Patrick Cote 13-4
James Irvin 14-4
Dan Henderson 22-6
Rich Franklin 24-2
Nate Marquardt 25-6
Travis Lutter 9-3
Rich Franklin 22-1
Chris Leben 15-1

Non-UFC Opponents
Tony Fryklund 11-5
Jorge Rivera 10-3
Lee Murray 8-1-1
Jeremy Horn 70-12-5
Carlos Newton 11-6
Alex Stiebling 12-1-1
Hayato “Mach” Sakurai 18-0-2
Tetsuji Kato 13-2

The combined records of the fighter beaten by Silva noted above, first with the ridiculous Jeremy Horn totals, then without, are as follows:

With Gumby: 383-82-9
Without Gumby: 313-70-4

Either way you stack it up, Silva’s notable opponents bring an 80.1% winning percentage to the table. It bumps up to 81.27% in the UFC; his 13 victims have a combined 230-52-1 record inside the Octagon.

with UFC welterweight title belt

UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre

Statistically speaking, the only fighter I can think of who would be comparable is Georges St-Pierre, the #1A to Silva’s #1 in the current incarnation of the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.

Because I like a good debate, I went ahead and compiled St-Pierre’s statistics as well. They are as follows:

Record: 22-2 (16-2 in the UFC)
Streak: 9 fight (all in the UFC)
Title Defenses: 6 (I’ll give you 7 if you say he defended the interim title when he beat Matt Serra)

Overall Record of Opponents: 353-72-8 (no wins left out)
Record of Opponents UFC Only: 297-50-4

The UFC welterweight champion’s opposition inside the Octagon boasts an impressive 84.6% winning percentage, up from the overall total of 81.5%.

If there were to be a “Jeremy Horn” in St-Pierre’s list — a guy with an inflated record that shifts the numbers — it would be Sean Sherk, who sported a 31-1-1 mark when he stepped into the cage with GSP at UFC 56. Only a handful of the opponents he’d face along the way will register to even the most hardcore fans; you could tell me two-thirds of them were your cousin and I wouldn’t know for different.

Looking at the statistics alone — the numbers laid out here — you can justly argue that St-Pierre tops Silva. He’s faced opponents with a slightly higher overall winning percentage and more of his foes have been considered elite challengers in comparison to those Silva has defeated.

So why do I still think Silva tops St-Pierre and stands as the greatest of all time?

The first piece of evidence I submit — let’s call this People’s Exhibit 1, Your Honor — is Silva’s 2-0 mark in the UFC light heavyweight division.

Go ahead and deride James “The Sandman” Irvin all you like. Pick apart his 14-4 record at the time he fought Silva; I’ll agree with anybody who says St-Pierre probably could have done the same to an Irvin-esque middleweight. The truth is that Irvin was a good-but-nowhere-near-great opponent.

But Forrest Griffin was eight months removed from being the very best light heavyweight on the planet and Silva embarrassed him.

For St-Pierre to achieve something comparable, he would have needed to beat someone like Nate Marquardt or Dan Henderson. Could he beat them? Maybe; but would he have dominated either the way Silva cut through Forrest?

The second piece of evidence — People’s Exhibit 2, if it pleases the court — is the one that is the most difficult to get around.

Silva has never lost in the UFC, period. That fact is a painful body blow to just about every argument you can make in support of anyone else.

Yes, he’s lost, and he’s dropped fights to some surprising opposition (see Takase, Daiju), but once he reached the organization recognized as the very best in the world, no one has beaten him. Only one man has actually come close.

The zero in his UFC loss column is the annoying little asterisk to the “when you’re fighting the best guys in the world every time, you’re bound to lose at some point” line of reasoning. It stands as the unspoken “except Anderson Silva” counter-punch when we’re talking about fights inside the Octagon.

Silva hasn’t experienced a “Matt Serra Moment” in the UFC. He never even had a “beaten by an experienced veteran and it made me strong” loss as St-Pierre did against Matt Hughes at UFC 50.

Without that loss to Serra, I’d be in Camp GSP right now, and I’ll probably be there by the time he wraps up his career in all honesty. The way he’s looked since losing to Serra, you could foresee him surpassing the length winning streak Silva currently enjoys, and maybe even a move to middleweight at some point.

But right now, in the final week of August 2011, my choice for the greatest of all time is Silva.

Feel free to argue otherwise; I look forward to it.