Anderson Silva was the most feared entity in the Ultimate Fighting Championship for more than six years, his historic run atop the middleweight division marked by breathtaking speed, power and technique. The intimidation factor at its height was off the charts.
Silva arrived in the UFC to considerable hype in June 2006 and could not have made a stronger first impression, as he buried Chris Leben with punches and knees 49 seconds into their UFC Fight Night 5 main event. The Brazilian went on to capture the undisputed middleweight crown in his next appearance and enjoyed an unprecedented reign over the 185-pound weight class, carving out a path of destruction that included one notable opponent after another: Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin, Demian Maia and Yushin Okami, to name a few.
The UFC on Nov. 19 cut ties with “The Spider” after he suffered his third consecutive defeat and seventh in nine outings, losing to Uriah Hall by fourth-round technical knockout at UFC Fight Night 181. Silva’s best days have long since passed—he turns 46 in April—but he seems intent on fighting again in the not-too-distant future. As the MMA world awaits his next move, a look at some of the rivalries that helped shape a true all-time great:
Franklin had the middleweight championship, owned a 22-1 record and had never lost at 185 pounds when he met Silva in the UFC 64 main event on Oct. 14, 2006 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Only a handful of MMA insiders saw the juggernaut that was headed his way. Silva was still something of an unknown commodity for casual fans, but those who had followed his career were well aware of the scorched-earth weaponry he possessed in his wiry frame. “The Spider” was spectacular, established his dominance early and picked apart Franklin with violent precision. Once they clinched two minutes in, Silva applied his vice-like collar tie and raked the Cincinnati native with repeated knees to the body. Franklin’s ribs went from bright pink to deep red, as he became hopelessly entangled in the Brazilian’s destructive muay Thai web. Silva continued to pepper the body, until he fired one of his knees upstairs and obliterated Franklin’s nose. The defending champion’s legs buckled, as he stumbled backward, got sucked into the clinch again and absorbed another knee to the face. Franklin was done 2:59 into Round 1, and Silva had touched off a run of divisional dominance that had never before been seen in the UFC. They met again a little more than a year later at UFC 77, where Silva once again destroyed Franklin with knees and forced a stoppage 67 seconds into the second round of their rematch.
The greatest middleweight champion of all-time pulled off the greatest come-from-behind victory of his career in the UFC 117 headliner on Aug. 7, 2010 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Sonnen spent months baiting Silva with insulting and hyperbolic trash talk, vowing to swing sledgehammers and expose “The Spider” as a fraud. He seemed to be spot-on with his assessment for the better part of 20 minutes, as he took down Silva with ease and assaulted him with ground-and-pound. Sonnen effectively neutralized the Brazilian’s surgical striking skills and cruised to a four-rounds-to-none lead: The Milwaukie, Oregon, native had outlanded Silva 278-54 in total strikes and executed three takedowns by the time Round 5 arrived. Once there, however, Sonnen wandered too low into the champion’s guard, became complacent and found himself entangled in a triangle choke; and though he fought through Silva’s initial bid, he had no way to defend the armbar that followed. Referee Josh Rosenthal accepted Sonnen’s tapout 3:10 into the fifth round, and with that, the legend of “The Spider” had grown yet again. Some two years later, they met again. Silva dismissed Sonnen with a knee strike to the body and follow-up punches 1:55 into the second round of the UFC 148 main event, bringing their rivalry to a definitive conclusion.
When Silva was at his peak, there was not a better striker in mixed martial arts. No one knows that any better than Belfort. Though he was responsible for many jaw-dropping knockouts—his upward elbow on Tony Fryklund springs to mind—during his career, the finish “The Spider” authored against Belfort in the UFC 126 headliner on Feb. 5, 2011 stands out among the rest. Belfort had twice been stopped on strikes by Randy Couture, but he had never actually been knocked out, at least until he faced the middleweight champion before 10,893 fans at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. “The Phenom” tried to put his lethal hands to use, but Silva’s defense was sublime and limited him to an occasional glancing blow. A front kick to the face, thrown with blinding speed, crushing power and laser-guided accuracy, marked the beginning of the end for Belfort. He folded where he stood, as if cut down by a sniper’s bullet, and ate a few follow-up punches before the stoppage was called 3:25 into Round 1.
After six years, eight months and 22 days, Silva finally relinquished his hold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight throne. Weidman knocked out a clowning Silva with a left hook and follow-up ground strikes in the UFC 162 main event on July 6, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The unbeaten Weidman brought the match to a shocking and decisive close 78 seconds into Round 2, handing “The Spider” his first legitimate defeat since December 2004 and snapping his string of 17 consecutive victories. Weidman took down the longtime champion in the first round, softened him with ground-and-pound and aggressively fished for two leg locks, first a kneebar and then a heel hook. Once Silva returned to his feet, he started the uncomfortable process of toying with his challenger in a scene that had grown familiar to mixed martial arts observers. However, his taunting caught up to him early in the second round, where Weidman floored and finished him at the feet of referee Herb Dean. The once seemingly invincible Silva has gone 1-6 with one no-contest in eight appearances since, including a UFC 168 rematch with Weidman that ended when the Brazilian shattered his left leg on a low kick 1:16 into the second round.