01 Jan The Great Divide: Which UFC veteran do you still want to see fight in the octagon?
The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
In the past two weeks, we’ve seen two of the greatest fighters in MMA history possibly make their last appearances for the UFC, with the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov making a surprise retirement announcement following another dominant defense of his lightweight title at UFC 254, and middleweight legend Anderson Silva getting an informal sendoff on Saturday in what was billed by the promotion as his farewell performance.
UFC President Dana White has posited that Nurmagomedov could fight again, while on the flip-side he’s openly regretted even putting “The Spider” into the cage that one last time. They’re not the only stars whose futures he’s commented on, as he’s also thrown the r-word out there with longtime standouts like Donald Cerrone, Tyron Woodley, and Diego Sanchez.
Dana White: It’s going to break his heart, but Donald Cerrone and I need to talk about retirement
Dana White: Tyron Woodley ‘should start thinking about hanging it up’
In this edition of The Great Divide, MMA Fighting’s Jed Meshew and Alexander K. Lee sort through the veteran names approaching the end of the road and pick out who they think deserves at least one more shot at UFC glory.
LET ANDERSON SILVA MAKE THE CALL
Meshew: I honestly can’t believe we’re debating this. The answer is Anderson Silva, and it’s not even close to being close.
On the face of them, the arguments for why Anderson Silva should retire are simple and compelling: He’s 45 years old and hasn’t won a fight in almost four years. He’s 1-6, with a no-contest since losing his middleweight title, with half of those losses coming by stoppage. He has nothing left to prove in this sport, nothing else to accomplish, and at his age, continuing to take head trauma like he did against Uriah Hall this past weekend is ethically questionable and hard to watch. But the issue with all of those arguments is that they belie the truth of the matter, which is that Anderson Silva still has plenty left to give inside the cage.
At 45, he’s still in phenomenal shape. The man went three rounds without issue against a top-10 opponent on Saturday. And yes, his recent run has had extremely limited success, but look who he fought! Chris Weidman (twice), Nick Diaz, Michael Bisping, Daniel Cormier, Derek Brunson, Israel Adesanya, Jared Cannonier, and now Uriah Hall. Or, another way to say that: champion (twice), legend (who he beat), future champ, double champ, top-10 opponent (who he beat), future champ, top-five opponent, and then another top-10 opponent. That is a murderer’s row right there and most fighters in the world would be lucky to face it and come out with any wins at all. And more than that, in most of those fights, Silva was competitive! Think about it. Old, semi-washed Silva gave Adesanya his second-most difficult fight in the UFC.
Silva isn’t shot, he’s just a little faded. If we’re being honest, he’s probably been declining slightly since the first Chael Sonnen bout (maybe even the Demian Maia one), but he was so far ahead of his contemporaries that it still took another three years for them to catch up. Even seven years after that, Silva is still leaps and bounds ahead of most middleweights on the planet, and he’s still as good as anyone occasionally. He’s just no longer at a point where he can keep up with elite talent for prolonged periods. Basically, Silva is that Toby Keith song: he’s not as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was. (Just so we’re all clear here, I am intentionally referencing a song about age affecting sexual performance here as a wink to Silva’s infamous tainted sex pill excuse. I’m a damn genius.) He seems to be well-aware of this fact and is okay with it, so why aren’t we?
Look, I’m the first person to say that fighters should retire, because I think all fighters, everywhere should retire. MMA pays very little and exacts a tremendous toll. Everyone involved would be better served by doing damn near any other career, but that’s not why fighters fight. It’s a calling. They do it because they love it and fans frequently and vociferously laud them for that fighting spirit. Then when the outcomes don’t go the way the fans hope they want to cut that off? Silva can no more turn off his drive to compete than I could lasso the moon and demanding he do so is ridiculous. What we can do is ask that he continue to do the thing he loves in a manner more befitting his current abilities, and given Silva’s recent comments about loving to compete, I’m sure he’d be amenable to that.
The fact of the matter is, the outcry of people asking for Silva to retire now is a result of a fundamental failure of the decision makers in the sport. If he wants to continue fighting, the UFC doesn’t get to say yes or no. That’s his choice. The UFC gets to decide the fights they will offer him, or if they will release him, and it’s the former that has been an issue for Dana White. Silva should be on the legends retirement tour, fighting other old guys and faded big names in nostalgia bouts that don’t raise moral quandaries. Barring that, he should be fighting total scrubs who he can style on to deliver fan-pleasing highlights. Instead, the UFC keeps trotting him out against ranked fighters because Silva is a big name and they want to squeeze the last bit of marketability juice out of him by having him give the rub to up-and-comers. It’s the pro-wrestling playbook only instead of scripted outcomes, it’s real violence.
It’s not just the real violence that bothers fans though. I would argue that the biggest reason fans call for fighters to retire is not for their health and safety, but to preserve a concept of that fighter in the fans’ minds. Fans want to remember the Anderson Silva who front-kicked Vitor and triangled Chael. They don’t want to remember the guy who had his shin snap like dried spaghetti and got hoisted on his own petard against Hall because it’s just a BUMMER. I mean, look at this.
sorry guys pic.twitter.com/qs8HacJjji
— Aiden (@aidenh25) November 3, 2020
There isn’t a hardcore fan alive that that doesn’t hurt to watch.
For fans who have been around the sport for ages, who have grown up with legends like Silva and now have to see him struggle with the limitations of old age, it harkens to a time where in the not-so-distant future they too will have to reckon with Father Time. But the simple truth is, time comes for us all in the end but until it does for good, the only thing to do is live your life in the manner that makes you happy.
Fighting clearly still makes Anderson Silva happy. Performing on the biggest stage to the delight of fans clearly makes Anderson Silva happy. Competition makes Anderson Silva happy. So who the hell are we to take that away from him?
SAY ‘YES’ TO DIEGO SANCHEZ FIGHTING AGAIN
Lee: Let me preface everything I’m about to write here by stating that I would be perfectly happy if Diego Sanchez announced tomorrow that he is done fighting. I look forward to the Instagram post featuring his face merged with that of a gazelle accompanied by a caption in which he declares that he is spiritually sated and that he plans to spend the rest of his days living in the mountains, harnessing thunderstorm energy, and kicking it with his boy Josh Fabia. I’m here for all of that.
But since there’s a good chance that the original Ultimate Fighter sticks around, then I’m all for him fighting out what’s left of his contract. Keep in mind, Sanchez has three fights left on his contract after re-upping with the UFC this year, so he’s potentially in it for the long haul. Whether the matchmakers should honor all of these remaining fights is another story altogether and I imagine even the most ardent fans of “The Nightmare” would breathe a sigh of relief if he were pushed into retirement with another loss.
So first, let me offer a broad statement as to why athletes like Sanchez hang on as long as they do. Imagine the pass-time you’re most passionate about, whether it’s an athletic activity like martial arts, basketball, baseball, hockey, or something artistic like playing an instrument, cooking, painting. Now picture being able to do that at the highest level possible and reaping all the joy and rewards that come with reaching that level. We all have a hobby that we wish we could indulge in forever, one that we know will someday either no longer be an option or at least not exist in the way that it once did. That’s the reality that fighters like Sanchez face and one that they want put off as long as possible.
Of course, the consequences of sticking around in MMA can be far more severe than no longer being able to chum it up with your slowpitch softball team. Perhaps more than any other sport besides football, the longer you fight the greater the negative consequences to your long term health. That has to be considered.
So here’s why I want to see Sanchez fight in the UFC again.
He’s a true original. A relic from a bygone era that is somehow still a tough out (maybe too tough for his own good sometimes). He’ll be 39 by the time the New Year rolls around and yet he brings the same passion to every fight that he did when he won TUF at 23. You can’t take that sort of thing for granted and it’s why he has such a strong following to this day.
This is bigger than Sanchez. The UFC needs to learn how to send its valued veterans out the right way, not by using them as stepping stones until they’re degraded into dust, but by booking fun matchups with other fighters in the same age and experience rage. So what I’m really doing here is not just asking for the UFC to book Sanchez again—because that seems like it’s going to happen no matter what we say—but to do it the right way.
The Demian Maia fight is right there. Maia himself is looking for an appropriate swan song, both men have expressed an interest in fighting one another, and, to put it bluntly, it’s exactly the kind of low-impact, non-concussive matchup that we can watch without feeling too guilty about it.
Enough with pairing Sanchez up with opponents who were in high school when he was headlining Fight Nights. Nobody wants to see him facing young guns and those types of opponents have little to gain from fighting Sanchez. Bring on the Maias, the Court McGees, heck, maybe he gets in there with one of his old buddies Carlos Condit or Donald Cerrone. There are lots of palatable options for Sanchez, whether he gets one more fight or three.
This is the UFCs chance to set a precedent, to figure out how best to handle situations like this as opposed to putting whatever name they want on a contract because they know guys like Sanchez will sign off on it. As absurd as it might sound, Sanchez has a lot left to offer from both an entertainment standpoint and as an ambassador for MMA. The UFC just has to be smart about it.
So yes, call me sentimental or call me sadistic, but I don’t think the Diego Sanchez story is over yet. He’s only 20 months removed from a Performance of the Night-winning outing against Mickey Gall and as discouraging as his last three fights have been there’s still the sense that his next three could see him leave on a high note.
Sanchez has been the definition of a company man for over 15 years. The UFC owes him the chance to go out not just on his terms (Sanchez would step in there with Yoel Romero if asked) but on terms that can leave us all with a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of the day. Or at least as close as we can get to that feeling in this game.
Let Sanchez fight again and give fans another chance to witness one of MMA’s truly unique characters compete, warts and all.
Which UFC star do you want to see stick around?
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