Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the UFC live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.
Heading into the UFC Fight Night 181 main event between 10th-ranked Uriah Hall and former Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva on Saturday in Las Vegas, there were two likely outcomes vis-à-vis the latter’s final Octagon performance. Either Silva was going to get beaten by a guy around whom he would have run circles during his prime, or “The Spider” was going to rise, like a phoenix from the Halloween-themed ashes, and put on one great Anthony-Pettis-versus-Stephen-Thompson-esque performance before riding off into the sunset.
What we got was the former. While the Brazilian won the first round—and the second on one of the official scorecards—the gun-shy Hall began to get a sense for Silva’s timing as the bout wore on. He scored a vicious knockdown in the third-round courtesy of a flush right hook against the advancing Silva before finishing the job with an almost identical counterpunch, followed by some bone rattling ground-and-pound, in the fourth.
While witnessing the future hall of famer lose for the seventh time in nine appearances was undoubtedly upsetting for many, contextualizing those numbers provides some degree of comfort. Of those nine opponents, six were former, current or future UFC or Strikeforce champions, and the remaining three were Top 10 middleweights. The lion’s share of Silva’s post-championship performances came when he was well into his 40s, with the Brazilian being on average eight years older than each of his opponents. Silva won rounds against Hall, Michael Bisping and Israel Adesanya, and unlike many of his pound-for-pound contemporaries—B.J. Penn, Renan Barao and Johny Hendricks, to name three particularly depressing counter-examples—he remained a marquee attraction into the tail end of his UFC career.
All of which is to say that there were options available for UFC President Dana White—a man who is no stranger to spin—to memorialize Silva’s final trip to the Octagon and the career that preceded it in a positive and dignified way. Instead, White took a different route. At the post-fight press conference, he heavily implied that Silva was overpaid, eviscerated Hall for his lack of forward pressure during the bout and proposed a bizarre counterfactual whereby Silva would have “taken a s---load of punishment” against a more aggressive middleweight. When asked for his view on the possibility that Silva could further elongate his MMA career by jumping ship to a competing promotion, White labeled the proposition “disgusting” and said it would be irresponsible for an athletic commission to license it.
Somehow, despite being the man who greenlit the fight against Hall—and, more importantly, profited from it—White was claiming Silva’s performance had had proved him right and that anyone else who would look to offer him fights would be opportunistic, immoral and exploitative. Never mind that bouts in the Bellator MMAs and Rizin Fighting Federations of the world would conceivably be against opponents of a more appropriate caliber for a 45-year-old than Uriah Freaking Hall, a man with a 75% finishing rate who waltzed into the fight as a 3-to-1 favorite and as the 10th-ranked middleweight in the world, according to the UFC’s official rankings. Forget that bouts on Silva’s horizon may be in different sports altogether, sports like boxing, where a once-highly anticipated bout with the 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. is still theoretically an option and quite possibly a lucrative one at that.
Not that anyone should be urging Silva to continue competing for the sake of it. For most MMA fans, the scenario White describes is regarded as the best one in terms of Silva’s long-term health and legacy. However, if Silva is insistent that he wants to keep plying his trade and the UFC is adamant that it wants no part of that business, then it’s imperative that he is released him from his contract and permitted to make his own decisions. What’s telling then is that White wouldn’t commit to doing that at the press conference when pressed. “I don’t know. He’s a grown man. He can do what he wants to do,” White said. “I can’t say I’ll release him from his contract, but we’ll figure something out.”
If one was a cynic, it would be tempting to conclude that White’s performance at the presser was a crudely designed ploy to avoid having to make that very call. By loudly discrediting Silva’s final showing in the Octagon and his viability as a professional fighter moving forward, his hope is to deter rival promoters from attempting to profit from the fumes of Silva’s career now that the UFC cannot. Any move to block Silva from fielding other offers while refusing to offer him a final fight on his UFC contract—likely of dubious legality applying basic principles of contract law—might therefore be painted in a sympathetic light by a pliable MMA media, not as a flagrant abuse of market power.
There is plenty of precedent for White’s ugly interventionism. When welterweight prospect Sage Northcutt left the UFC for One Championship after being offered a Top 10 opponent in negotiations with the former, White wasted little time in criticizing his skill set, later nonsensically calling for his retirement when he lost his One debut. White made a similarly obnoxious attempt to discredit Cristiane Justino after her final Octagon performance in July 2019—a three round shellacking of Felicia Spencer—when it was clear she would not be re-signing with the UFC.
The headline here is that to White and the UFC, even the greatest fighter in MMA history is reduced to just another collection of dollar signs when it counts—both on the promotion’s balance sheet and on the balance sheets of would-be competitors. If anyone deserved better than that, taking into account what he has done for the UFC and this sport, it was Anderson Silva.
Jacob Debets is a lawyer and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.