Yet Anderson Silva appears to be nodding off.
Having left behind a who's who of carcasses in his weight division, the Brazilian precision striker is quickly running out of victims. Rich Franklin (Pictures) was dispatched twice (once in his hometown, no less); durable Travis Lutter (Pictures) and Nate Marquardt were beat at their own games; Dan Henderson (Pictures), asphyxiated.
Discouraged from calling out finishes in mid-bout or tying one hand behind his back, the UFC's reigning middleweight champion is facing one of the more dangerous opponents in his rapidly expanding legacy: athletic apathy.
With Matt Lindland (Pictures) denied entry to the promotion and 16-0 WEC standout Paulo Filho (Pictures) disinclined to fight his friend and teammate, there are few reasonable bouts left for Silva on the table. Most expect him to rematch Yushin Okami (Pictures), a resilient Japanese contender. (Their 2006 fight ended with Silva launching an illegal kick that hurt Okami, inviting a disqualification. It was his last loss.)
But with fans and fighters alike meeting Okami with indifference, reports have surfaced that Silva is making early, brazen attempts to assemble a fight with boxing great Roy Jones, Jr. And unlike earlier grandstanding challenges -- few remember Ralph Gracie (Pictures) crashing a Jones press conference in the mid-1990s -- he proposes to do it under the Florida native's Queensbury rules set.
It's understood that, nearing 40, Jones is aging leather. He hasn't won a relevant fight in years. Hasn't, in fact, knocked out anyone in nearly six. The dizzying speed that flummoxed journeymen (and the occasional future champion) has evaporated. Sporting a chin twice cracked, he has to be careful when boxing his shadow.
But Jones, at 52-4, has 54 more professional boxing matches than Silva, who, according to boxrec.com, has only two bouts to his credit -- one of which resulted in a TKO loss. And where Silva has spent years fracturing his attention between jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, wrestling and pugilism, Jones has only had to concern himself with the delicate art of dislocating molars.
Should Silva choose to step in between the ropes with Jones, it would be a technical mismatch unseen since Roy Scheider dipped a tepid toe into the shark-infested waters of Amity Island.
But like all promotional oddities, it should be expected that a Silva-Jones fight would do appreciable business, thanks in large part to the athletes representing more than just their own egos.
Silva would enter as this industry's answer to criticism that mixed-style athletes aren't as technically proficient as their boxing counterparts, that there's no true rhythm to the visceral chaos of MMA. Jones would be empowered by beliefs that boxing is the fight sport of tradition, and that no ugly upstart has any rightful claim to suppressing it. It's exactly the kind of broad story, easily explained and understood, that makes for compelling sports entertainment.
Tell it in six, eight or 10 rounds: Silva hasn't logged enough time to out-finesse Jones under any duration. A victory can come only by surviving, by hanging tough with a boxing legend and enjoying fleeting moments of accuracy before Jones rights the ship and continues his barrage. They won't hurt, but they'll sting -- both Silva's face and his personal pride.
Not that Silva should ever dare hang his head, even if Jones manages to rattle his cage enough to score a finish. By even agreeing to such a lopsided contest, Silva does nothing but offer further proof of what the Bukowski-bred laureates have dubbed "gameness," the primal urge to scrap until your limbs cease cooperating. It would embellish, not diminish, his profile.
But even if Silva and Jones agree to circle each other and fans start waving wallets, third parties could find ample reason to squash plans.
The man with the most to lose standing off-canvas is Dana White, who has seen his UFC property climb out of its early grave and regularly trump both boxing and pro wrestling on pay-per-view. Would White really embrace the idea of his most-buzzed-about champ looking worse for the wear in a rival format? There's certainly money in it, but White has never (wisely) taken the quick buck over long-term profiteering. Having a UFC champion look subservient to an older boxer isn't exactly smart box office.
There's also the not-insignificant matter of having a 1-1 Silva fight a former multi-division champion with dozens of fights. Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer, a possible host for the hypothetical bout, says that sanctioning the fight is "possible," but expresses concern over taking away a majority of Silva's artillery.
"Anderson is obviously well known for his striking ability," Kizer says, "[but] a lot of that is kicks, knees and elbows, which don't do any good in a boxing match. It's a tough thing. You have to give him some credit, but whether or not that's approvable as a boxing match, it's hard to know."
But, Kizer adds, "the fact that he's good at other things, not just striking, shouldn't be held against him."
Neither should his ambition.
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