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Early-retirement for Anderson Silva might not be such a bad thing

Rumblings out of Brazil have suggested in recent days that UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva has discussed in TV interviews emanating from his home country that he isn’t ruling out retirement a year from now.

I haven’t jumped on the reports as a news story because thus far, I am taking them with a grain of salt. For one, what does retirement mean in MMA? How many times has Randy Couture retired? And despite his retirement earlier this year, Paul Daley now finds himself set to face Jake Shields for the EliteXC welterweight title on Oct. 4 in a match to be televised on CBS.

Retirement in combat sports simply means a hiatus. Additionally, because of the language barrier, we don’t truly know the context in which he felt compelled to issue his comments. For all we know he could have been asked what he will do if he beats Patrick Cote, Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin in the next year?

We also do not know what mood Silva was in. You’d be surprised how often fighters talk about quitting. Training is hard and the life of a fighter is one of great sacrifice. A fighter experiences a great deal of mood swings while preparing for a fight. And Silva’s recent interview could have been nothing more than a fighter venting frustration while he prepares for a fight at UFC 90 against Patrick Cote in which he has a lot to lose and little to gain.

I’d be taking Silva’s comments more serious if he suggested he was considering retiring by year’s end. But a year from now? A lot can happen in 12 months in the fight game. In 12 months several major promotions could be out of business and a new bumper crop of challengers to Silva’s 185 lbs. crown could suddenly arrive in the UFC.

But let’s for a second indulge the idea of Silva walking away from the fight game. I’m not convinced it would be such a bad thing at this point. In fact, I actually think it could be good for the sport.

When Silva fights, it’s poetry in motion. Being deprived of his number one pound-for-pound greatness would not be a good thing. However, if he took a one or two year sabbatical, you have to admit that it would bring some much needed parity to the world’s 185 pound division.

I don’t think I am alone in saying that right now in MMA, middleweight is the sport’s least compelling division. And we have Silva’s awesomeness to blame for that. A year ago at this time, Silva was a great fighter but we at least had some naysayers promote the idea that he could be beat by Dan Henderson. There was also still a rematch with Rich Franklin to look forward to and Franklin fans were able to tell themselves that perhaps things would be different the second time around.

Well, Silva vs. Franklin II wasn’t much different than Franklin vs. Silva I and Henderson didn’t make it past the second round at UFC 82. Perhaps there is a foil outside the UFC that could pose a challenge to Silva? Cung Le? It would be a fun matchup but do you really think an MMA newcomer such as Lee could stand for Silva for an extended duration? Frank Shamrock? It would do great at the box office but would the outcome ever be in doubt? Matt Lindland? He’s a great fighter but his style is similar to Henderson’s and if Henderson went down in flames, why would a fight between him and Silva be any different?

And what happens after Silva destroys Cote in October? Yes, I am jumping to conclusions, but I have no reason to believe otherwise. Sure, anyone can be beaten but Cote’s game is similar to Silva’s but nowhere near as good. You aren’t going to out-strike Silva. Am I overlooking something much like many of us overlooked Chuck Liddell’s weaknesses during his reign of dominance? The difference there is that Quinton Jackson showed a blue print during the PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix about how to beat Liddell, which was by getting in his face and testing his chin. For whatever reason, many like myself tried to dismiss that as an aberration. Jackson and Rashad Evans proved us wrong.

Such a poison pill doesn’t exist in Silva’s game right now. We can’t really question his chin because if you look at his losses, none of them are really bad losses and one are by TKO. This is a man who has never been knocked out. His most notable losses consist of a freak hail marry flying scissors heel hook by Ryo Chonan at PRIDE Shockwave 2004 — a move we may never see executed again in our lifetime — and a DQ loss to Yushin Okami at Rumble on the Rock 8 in 2006. Then you have the decision loss to Luiz Azeredo in his pro debut and a submission loss to Daiju Takase at PRIDE 26 in 2003.

The loss to Takase may carry some merit. While Silva’s jiu-jitsu is exceptional from his back, I don’t think he’s all that dangerous when it comes to being in top position. His wrestling isn’t stellar and he showed some kinks in his MMA ground armor during his UFC 67 win over Travis Lutter in 2007. But let’s remember that he had two bum knees in that fight and despite being in some trouble, he still got the job done and finished Lutter in the second round.

When you add it all up, Silva is unbeatable. I don’t know how else to say it other than the middleweight division is boring me to tears right now. It’s almost as if Silva is too good for our own good. Do I want to see him walk away and never fight again? No, not at all. But I wouldn’t mind him taking a year or two sabbatical and allow some new blood rise to the top and then return to claim the throne he abandoned.

After he gets past Cote, the only thing left for him in the UFC will be potential middleweight fights vs. Okami and Michael Bisping and maybe a light heavyweight special attraction vs. Liddell. I don’t see Okami or Bisping beating Silva and even if Silva loses to Liddell, a loss at 205 doesn’t change the fact that he’s still the best 185’er in the world.

While I am bored by Silva’s prospects at 185, there are two middleweight fights for him that excite me. The problem is, they’ll never happen; Silva vs. Paulo Filho and Silva vs. Lyoto Machida are great fights we’ll never see. Filho has the world class jiu-jitsu that could expose Silva’s one flaw. And Machida’s elusive nature could prove difficult for Silva to solve. But as I just stated, the chances of those fights happening are none and none. Every now and then we see a headline with an occasional tease about how Filho and Silva might be willing to fight each other but it’s always proceeded by a strong denial from one of the two fighters. Machida competes at 205 but could easily drop to 185. However, he and Silva have the same management and have too much respect to ever fight each other.

As such, there are almost no hurdles to overcome or mountains left to climb for Silva. By going away for a year or two it would allow some new challengers to be built up. Two years from now Rousimar Palhares and Demian Maia might have graduated from prospect status to bonafide superstars. WEC blue chip prospects Mark Moreno and Jake Rosholt could be powerhouses two years from now. Two years from now Gegard Mousasi and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza could be household names in the UFC’s middleweight division.

However, if Silva sticks around then none of the six aforementioned names will ever be built up as legitimate challenges because they’ll be forced to fight Silva before they are ready due to the fact that there are no other challengers for him. If they are allowed to marinate and appear dominant for an extended period of time, we might actually start to believe that they have a chance. Out of sight equals out of mind and by seeing fighters such as Souza, Mousasi, Rosholt, Palhares, Moreno, and Maia take care of business while Silva is on the sidelines, the concept of an unbeatable Silva might become a thing of the past.

More than anything else, that’s what we need: a reason to believe that someone has a chance to beat Anderson Silva straight up and not by some fluke occurrence. Sadly, the only way for that to happen might be for him to walk away. And while many of you shudder to think about the possibility of a sport without Anderson Silva, I contend that it might be for the best.