If there is one certainty about Anderson Silva, beyond the fact that he's the greatest hand-to-hand combatant the world has ever known, it's that he hates MMA. More specifically, he hates what MMA has become: a sport whose best and worst practitioners alike almost universally worship at the temples of utilitarianism and risk management. The sport to which he has strived to bring aesthetic value is overrun by folks who view the world through the eyes of a middle manager. For Silva, this would be like spending one's life wearing pleated cargo shorts and watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.
In that sense, it was inevitable that Silva would dedicate himself to trolling the sport he lords over. After all, once you realize that you hate your job but are too good at it to do anything else, what else is there to do other than artfully troll everyone in sight? The emphasis is on "artfully," because Silva's struggle has been to make the world see him as an artist, first and foremost. When your job is fighting inside a cage for money, wishing to be judged by the same standards as Jean-Michel Basquiat or Frida Kahlo makes roughly zero sense -- until the Brazilian sporting culture Silva grew up in is taken into account.
Brazil's national soccer team brought an end to the country's 34-year World Cup drought in 1994, and placed second in 1998. Even by Brazil's lofty standards, it was an incredible run of success, which only makes the country's reaction all the more fascinating. The people of Brazil hated those teams the way only a Buffalo Bills fan can hate the Buffalo Bills. Sure, they were honor-bound to support their team, but they didn't have to like it.
In stark contrast to the Brazilian tradition of fluid teamwork and one-on-one brilliance, these squads emphasized tactics, defense and (of course) winning. There was no deference paid to notions of the Beautiful Game; in its place was the simplistic win/loss binary. There was no golden boy like Pele or broken God like Garrincha patrolling the pitch; in their place were a bunch of dudes standing where they were supposed to stand.
A Bills fan would happily accept a miserably boring team if it came with a Super Bowl, but Brazilian soccer fans would accept no such thing, because they have something most fans lack: standards of excellence. They require artistry and beauty and transcendence from their national side, because they know no other brand of soccer can deliver the euphoria of the true Brazilian style. They also know that a disciplined and profoundly boring national side likely would win every other World Cup. Hell, it kinda works for Italy.
This is how Silva's homeland judges excellence in its defining sport, and it's by those standards that Silva demands he be judged. He is not some sociopath committing acts of violence in a locked cage for money. He is an artist who creates his work live and under the most hostile circumstances possible.
Against someone who doesn't so much want to beat you as turn you into a triptych encompassing man's inhumanity to man, it's easy to understand why Chris Weidman was so utterly screwed on Saturday night at UFC 162. The 29-year-old Long Islander, with all of nine professional fights to his name, found himself locked inside a cage with an inspired Silva, and he was starting to feel tired.
Like so many others before him, Weidman entered the fight certain that he had the right combination of wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to plant Silva on his back, keep him there and finish matters. This has long been offered as the obvious solution to Silva, which, as far as solutions go, is akin to offering that the best way to stop a bomb from exploding is to defuse it. Congratulations on your detective skills, now go see how easy it is when you actually have to do it.
Weidman tried it all the same, and he discovered that trying to crack Silva's defensive guard wasn't so much his own choice as the one Silva had conned him into. He landed a fair number of punches, but in doing so expanded a disproportionate amount of energy trying to maintain position, which he eventually lost chasing down an ill-advised kneebar-to-heelhook transition.
This much became obvious when Silva sprung to his feet, promptly stuck himself against the cage with his hands down -- perhaps the most vulnerable position any fighter could put himself in -- and dared Weidman to come at him. Still under the impression he had Batman'ed Silva's game, Weidman lunged for a lifeless takedown and got shoved aside like a child.
So now he was more than a bit tired, and Silva was more than a bit annoyed. Not to belabor the point or anything, but Weidman was severely screwed and it showed. The only thing more obvious was the disdain Silva had for the man some tabbed as his kryptonite. It was as if the idea that someone could defeat his artistry with mere violence had offended him to the core.
The artistry became progressively vulgar as Silva invited, dared and even demanded Weidman to come at him. All Weidman could offer were punches that Silva allowed him to land only so he could giggle at them. As the opening round drew to a close, Weidman began breathing through his mouth in a desperate bid to reclaim the oxygen he'd already wasted.
The second round began with Silva again leaving himself defenseless and pleading with Weidman to offer something worthy of his craft. The response came when Weidman caught Silva's chin on the back end of a left-hook-to-right-cross combination. The champion's rebuttal was to mime Don Flamenco's KO dance and slam a leg kick into Weidman's outer thigh. Professional fighters, no matter how well trained and talented, are not supposed to do this. Never mind do it successfully.
The abuse went on as Silva snuck a sidekick into Weidman's inner thigh while performing a mock dressage horse routine. Perhaps reverting to his instincts, Weidman tried for a takedown and was again shoved aside like a mere inconvenience. The only noticeable change from one round to the next was that Silva was no longer smiling through his taunts.
Weidman, to his credit, kept at it. He went for the openings Silva freely offered, landed ineffectual punches that at least landed, even as Silva emasculated him for the sake of art. The contest's lopsidedness was emphasized when Silva took a partially blocked left hook from Weidman as an opportunity to perform an abbreviated version of the Dougie.
Familiarity masked the danger that Silva needlessly had put himself in, just to prove he could. A sharp left hook found its mark, and Silva whirred to the opposite side at an angle that guaranteed Weidman's right cross would miss as badly as it did. Silva blithely stepped back with his hands down, and a bizarre backhanded right from Weidman was easily evaded as the champion craned his body backwards at an absurd angle -- an angle that left Silva's chin on the same plane as the Weidman left hook that ended his reign. As Weidman landed a flurry of perfunctory punches, referee Herb Dean rushed in to do something no UFC referee had ever done: call a fight for Silva's opponent.
What followed was the UFC middleweight title belt that Silva had worn for nearly seven years being strapped around Weidman's waist, and Silva immediately announcing that he had no interest in fighting for the title ever again. One could imagine Basquiat renouncing the brush over a failed masterpiece and end up with a sound understanding of what Silva did. Now there will be endless sermonizing and theorizing over Silva's motivations: karma, maturity and whatever else about him can be psychoanalyzed and bound with thin strands of broken logic. This will happen, and it's more than a bit silly. Clearly, Silva was just mad that his art got ruined.
Tomas Rios is a freelance NYC-based writer who has covered MMA for The Classical, Deadspin, The Pacific Standard and Slate. You can find him @TheTomasRios.