Anderson Silva (pictured, right) in a boxing match in Bahia, Brazil, on Aug. 5, 2005 | BoxingCriticBlog, YouTube
Welcome to a special edition of Missed Fists where Jed Meshew and Alexander K. Lee take a look back at the pre-UFC adventures of one Anderson Silva.
AL: While we’re certainly skeptical that “The Spider” is actually set to weave his last web inside the cage this coming Saturday at UFC Vegas 12, now is as good a time as any to reflect on Silva’s career and wax poetic about some of his finest exploits.
JM: “Skeptical” is one way to put it. “100 percent confident he is not retiring at all and will continue to fight well into his 50s” is another way. I’m convinced Andy Silver is just leaving the UFC so he can serve as a last-minute replacement for Mike Tyson and finally fight Roy Jones Jr.
AL: However, this being Missed Fists, we’re not here to talk Silva’s illustrious career inside the octagon, but rather his humble beginnings when he was a more modest monster and not the destroyer of worlds that he would someday become. Let’s start all the way back at the beginning.
Brazilian Freestyle Circuit 1 — Camp Grande, Brazil
June 25, 1997
AL: Rewind 23 years to the exotic world of 1997. MMMBop was soaring up the charts, cinephiles were flocking to theaters to check out Con Air, and a 22-year-old Anderson Silva was getting his first taste of beating people’s asses.
Victim No. 1 was Raimundo Pinheiro, who entered his duel with Silva with a 1-1 record. Experience advantage, Pinheiro! That’s about the only advantage he had however as Silva used his jiu-jitsu skills to ground Pinheiro and finish with a rear-naked choke in just under two minutes.
JM: Man, looking at this all I can think about is how badass the old Vale Tudo shorts are. Black with the white trim is just the perfect MMA look. Too bad this video looks like it was shot on a 1970’s era camcorder. Seriously, the Zapruder film is of higher quality.
AL: It wouldn’t take long for Silva to get his second win, as that fight was actually the first of a one-night, four-man, 176-pound tournament. In the finals, Silva faced fellow future UFC fighter Fabricio Camoes, which you can read more about in this fine feature by our own Guilherme Cruz.
This is about as old school as old school gets. According to Camoes, all the tournament fighters were vying for a $500 prize, with the runners-up getting $250 and anyone else who participated getting zilch. Sounds like a salary system that Dana White would love.
JM: To be fair, this event has roughly the attendance of a high school volleyball game. Seriously, imagine being in the bleachers for an early fight of a future GOAT and having no idea.
AL: Silva and Camoes’ fight gets pretty wild and at one point they just spill out of the ring with people trying to hold them up from outside. It was an exhausting battle, with each round lasting 10 minutes, and by the middle of round three Camoes was forced to retire from a mixture of Silva’s punishing kicks and sheer exhaustion.
JM: I’m also partial to the mount on top of the ropes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that maneuver before. Even as a wee pup, the Spider was out there innovating.
AL: Two down. Many, many more to go.
Mecca World Vale Tudo 2 — Curitiba, Brazil
Aug. 12, 2000
Silva didn’t compete in MMA for three years following his one-night tournament triumph and when he did he suffered his first loss, a decision to Luiz Azaredo on May 27, 2000. Three months later, he would score his first proper knockout in a fight against Jose Barreto.
JM: What is astonishing to me about Anderson is how polished he looked even early in his career. Most young fighters, even all-time greats, kinda suck when they start. Go look at some early Cormier fights. He looks nothing like the “DC” we came to know. But Silva started MMA at a high level already.
AL: Indeed. And in those tiny shorts and hovering closer to 170 pounds than 185, Silva looked even more spider-like back then. It must have been like fighting one too because Barreto wanted no piece of Silva on the feet. It didn’t matter because Silva kept this one standing and planted his foot right in Azaredo’s face to send him tumbling to the mat a little over a minute into the fight.
There’s no record of Barreto ever fighting again.
THE REAL DEAL
Shooto 7 — Osaka, Japan
Aug. 26, 2001
In just his eighth pro bout, Silva was matched up with the criminally overlooked Hayato Sakurai. “Mach” was a beast in the late 90s-early 2000s JMMA scene and he fought notable competition all the way up until his retirement in 2016. Back in August 2001, he was one of the best welterweights in the world, sporting an 18-0-2 record and holding wins over Frank Trigg, Azaredo, and Caol Uno, among other respected names (he later went on to beat the likes of Dave Menne, Shinya Aoki, Jens Pulver, and Joachim Hansen).
With that glowing introduction out of the way, let’s now watch how Silva absolutely handled him.
Silva just outworked Sakurai here, it’s an incredible performance. He has an insane guard (watch how he brutalized Tetsuji Kato off of his back here), meaning he could strike fearlessly without worrying about the takedown. Sakurai put the pressure on him early, but by the end it’s clear that Silva was superior in every aspect.
JM: This is the fight that has been lost in the GOAT conversation. There are a lot of GOATs out there with cases hinging on a number of different factors, but no one ever talks about how Anderson is the only fighter in history with top-five wins in three divisions (you can maybe throw Frankie Edgar in there too). But Anderson was a legitimate threat to win a world title in three divisions over the course of his career and that is bonkers.
PRIDE 25 – Yokohama, Japan
March 16, 2003
AL: In 2003, beating a former UFC champion wasn’t the “be all, end all” of determining whether someone was an elite fighter, especially with PRIDE boasting the top roster in combat sports at the time, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Silva was 2-0 in PRIDE when he faced Carlos Newton, who was two fights removed from a failed attempt to regain the UFC welterweight title from Matt Hughes.
Silva’s reputation was already growing by this point and he lived up to expectations with an early highlight that still holds up with some of his best.
JM: In the words of Silva’s greatest rival, Chael Sonnen: KaaaaaBoom.
AL: To this day, I’m not sure if Newton was that badly rocked by Silva’s flying knee, or if he was just in complete awe of Silva’s speed and timing. Either way, The Spider didn’t waste anytime finishing off this particular prey. Newton joined the list of the many world champions that Silver would conquer.
Gladiator FC: Day 2 — South Korea
July 27, 2004
Skipping ahead in the chronology a bit, we have a 13-2 Silva fighting Jeremy Horn. Horn was a mere 88 pro bouts into his career here, nowhere near the 119 that he eventually retired with.
This one is fun to watch not necessarily because Silva is so dominant, but you can see how smart he is as a fighter when taking on an equally intelligent opponent who isn’t going to give him openings to style. Even when he wasn’t wrecking people, he found a way to demoralize them over the course of an entire fight. He’s always had a mean streak that’s belied his playful attitude, and that was evident in this battle with Horn.
JM: “Where’s your jiu-jitsu now, playboy?!” remains the most overlooked MMA quote of all time. To be an elite fighter, you have to be a mean sonnuva bitch, and you can see that steel in Anderson in this fight.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT, ROY JONES
Julio Cesar De Jesus
Boxing — Bahia, Brazil
Aug. 5, 2005
AL: We take one more odd departure here to discuss Silva’s brief boxing career, which was comprised of two bouts seven years apart.
Silva failed to make it past the second round of his first boxing match in 1998, but in 2005 he was given a proper can to put a whooping on and sure enough, his opponent Julio Cesar De Jesus did the job like he was supposed to.
JM: Obviously, no one told Anderson that nobody f*cks with De Jesus.
AL: Look at that. Silva is somehow twice the other guy’s size and also twice as fast. If Silva wanted to be like Roy Jones Jr. for a day, this was his chance. Mismatch or not, this is The Spider that we know and love. Straight clowning.
Still, there’s something so wrong about watching a Silva fight where he’s not throwing kicks or knees.
DOWN CAME THE RAIN
PRIDE 26 — Yokohama, Japan
June 8, 2003
PRIDE Shockwave 2004 — Saitama, Japan
Dec. 31, 2004
We can’t talk about Silva’s pre-UFC career without mentioning two of his most famous stumbles, submission losses to Daiju Takase and Ryo Chonan.
Takase has had one of the stranger fighting careers around—like Sakurai, you could probably write a whole Missed Fists feature about him—and even looking at it with the rosiest-colored glasses, there was little expectation that he would get past Silva at PRIDE 26, fresh off of Silva’s win over Newton. On the other side, Takase was 4-7-1 and he had dropped a decision to Antonio Schembri in his previous bout.
JM: Well now, who among us hasn’t taken an L to the great Antonio Schembri? That’s a very excusable loss. Still, your point is valid: this should have been a setup fight for Silva to look great, and then he didn’t. Then again, this is a Japanese fighter in PRIDE, so like, there’s always a chance this wasn’t totally on the up and up.
AL: Assuming there were no shady dealings, Takase’s upset win was no fluke. He went right at Silva late in the first round, utilizing a super aggressive submission game to suffocate his heavily-favored foe. Silva escaped a slick kimura setup, only to turn right into a triangle choke that forced him to tap out. It was the first time that Silva had been finished.
The second? PRIDE Shockwave 2004 just 18 months later. Once again it would be a submission that felled Silva courtesy of an opponent that he was expected to walk over.
Now this finish can definitely be called a fluke.
Ryo Chonan was 7-4 when he fought Silva and the majority of the fight played out as expected. A tough, but outmatched Chonan, had zero answers for Silva on the feet and couldn’t get the action to the mat. In the third, he abandoned all good sense and strategy to go for a Hail Mary leg scissors that not only brought Silva down, it instantly led to a fight-ending heel hook.
JM: Sixteen years later and this remains one of the absolute greatest submissions of all time. Up until Demetrious Johnson’s “Mighty Mousetrap Armbar” (where he threw a professional cage fighter in the air and armbarred him on the way down like a goddamn superhero), this probably was the greatest submission of all time. Even when he loses, Anderson Silva is part of history.
SILVA TAKES LONDON
Cage Rage — London
AL: And now, we have the run that cemented Silva as one to watch ahead of his eventual UFC signing. Silva’s work over in Japan generated plenty of buzz, but he made himself a must-sign for the UFC with his middleweight championship run in England’s Cage Rage promotion.
Jorge Rivera had already had his own stint in the UFC by the time he ran into Silva, but that big show experience did little to help him.
This is the methodical Silva we’ve all become accustomed to, the one that knows when he’s dealing with an inferior striker. He just takes the center of the cage here and dares Rivera to make a move. Whenever Rivera does, it doesn’t work out for him.
In round two, The Spider grew tired of playing with his food and he annihilated Rivera with his signature clinch knees.
JM: The world would soon come to learn how bad of an idea it is to be in the clinch with Anderson. Well, everyone except Rich Franklin who legitimately thought the clinch was a good place for him to fight Silva.
AL: Silva’s ran through Curtis Stout even faster, though credit the game Stout for going for broke against a future star.
All the heart in the world wasn’t going to save Stout here though and Silva’s superior grappling led to him turning Stout’s lights out with a straight-up ground-and-pound KO.
JM: Arguably the most underrated aspect of Silva’s game is his ground-and-pound. Dude had some of the most ferocious top-position work in the sport.
AL: And then there was Tony Fryklund. You already know about this one.
Silva was styling all over Fryklund before landing a strike that arguably would have made him a legend even if he’d never stepped foot inside a UFC octagon. Clearly sensing that he had the advantage, Silva seemed to pause his own assault to calculate just how he wanted to finish the fight and he decided on a strike that has an incredibly low percentage of landing much less landing with finishing force.
That’s exactly what Silva’s step-in elbow did though, sending Fryklund collapsing to the mat in a manner that befitted such an unorthodox strike. Everything about the elbow is perfect. The wind-up, the impact, the walk-off afterwards. Silva was clearly ready for the next step in his career.
JM: Peak Anderson really was something to behold.
AL: Silva’s mythical elbow KO happened over 14 years ago, but watching it now it’s as fresh as ever. He’d go on to surpass this performance many times over. Even so, you can imagine that anyone lucky enough to be in attendance for that fateful Silva-Fryklund fight probably thought they were watching the best fighter in the world after seeing that move.
If that’s the case, they might have been right.