At 41 years old, Anderson Silva still has plenty of love for the fight game. That's why, despite a five-fight winless skid spanning more than four years, "The Spider" continues to embrace each venture into the UFC Octagon.
The days of Silva being the world's best pound-for-pound fighter are long gone. The Brazilian is accepting of that, because now he's all about the challenge of competition, which is a compelling outlook for an athlete who holds nearly every major record in the UFC history books.
From the longest winning streak in UFC history (16) to the most consecutive title defenses (10) and the most overall knockdowns of his opponents (18), Silva's career has been an extraordinary ride filled with dramatic moments and highlight-reel finishes. But once the predator, Silva is now the pray of up-and-coming fighters eager to build their name off his legacy.
That's exactly the situation Silva faces when he meets Derek Brunson in Saturday's UFC 208 co-main event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And while it would seem like a desperate situation given the possibility of his drought extending to six fights, the former longtime UFC Middleweight champion appears less concerned about wins and losses than ever.
"Victory in my life, in your life, in everybody's life is important," Silva tells Rolling Stone. "I think the more important thing now in my life is to stay happy, work happy. I've been fighting for a long time in my life and working hard at fighting in the UFC. I've changed a little bit of my focus. I focus on my family and my different jobs outside the UFC. I think for me now it's not important how many fights I've lost, how many fights I win. I just bring my heart and do my best."
Silva's current skid includes a decision loss to current UFC Light Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in a fight he took on with just two days' notice at UFC 200 last July, a controversial decision loss to current UFC Middleweight champion Michael Bisping, a no-contest with Nick Diaz in a fight where both athletes tested positive for banned substances and a pair of defeats to former UFC champ Chris Weidman, one of which he lost after suffering a broken leg mid-fight in what was nothing short of a freak occurrence.
On paper Silva's recent record looks ugly. He hasn't beaten a currently active UFC fighter since February 2011, but his slump isn't all that bad upon closer examination. Silva might be the target of critics who believe he's lost what once made him so special. But even if that's true, it would be perfectly reasonable given his age. However, even his UFC 208 opponent Brunson feels that's a misguided outlook.
"In this situation I throw all those losses out," Brunson says. "I'm fighting a guy who is not as fast as he used to be, but this guy has all the skills in the world and is considered the best fighter of all time. Everyone else is looking at the losses, but how did he lose? Those fights were all close. It was unfortunate events in those fights. I plan on getting a very game and ready fighter."
With more than 40 professional fights to his name and his best days likely behind him, it's objectively fair to wonder exactly why Silva still chooses to compete. His disclosed payout of $600,000 to fight Cormier at UFC 200 over the summer is almost certainly one of the top reasons, but another is a still-burning passion to test his skills against the best fighters on the planet.
Moreover, Silva also believes he has a responsibility to give back to the UFC. Prior to becoming a fighting icon in the world's leading MMA organization Silva admits to holding doubt about whether he would be able to make a career in the sport. He was unsure fighting would be financially lucrative enough to live in the United States and support his five children. Fighting in the UFC put him in position to make that happen, and Silva feels a debt of gratitude.
"Being in the UFC changed everything in my life," Silva says. "I need to give back to the UFC everything that I have because the UFC gave me the opportunity to change everything in my world. I want to inspire a new generation, like my opponent.”
When it comes to testing himself, Silva views the fight with Brunson as an interesting challenge, but not the one he seeks most. Few would argue Silva is the greatest striker the UFC has ever seen, but another athlete looking to lay claim to that title is current UFC Lightweight champion Conor McGregor.
"The Notorious" has displayed remarkable standup talent during his UFC run, so much so that he's caught the attention of Silva. It may not be realistic due to the considerable size and weight discrepancy between the two, but before his career wraps up, Silva wants nothing more than to share the Octagon with the brash Irishman.
"I have a lot of respect for Conor McGregor because this man changed everything in the UFC," Silva says. "I'm very respectful of McGregor's style. I think it's a great challenge for my martial arts technique. I don't talk to disrespect Conor. It's just a challenge for myself and for the best standup fighting. I respect Conor and I think this would be a great show, a great fight for the rest of life, the rest of my story in the UFC."
Although he's set to turn 42 years old in April, Silva intends on completing the final five fights on his current UFC contract before he seriously considers whether or not to retire from competition. It's clear he still has some goals and aspirations, but there's a real danger in even slightly overlooking an opponent like Brunson, who has everything to gain and little to lose.
Silva may not carry the same emotional attachment to winning and losing as he did earlier in his career, but Brunson certainly does. Brunson is still pursuing all the things Silva has already accomplished in his career, and if Silva wants a challenge at UFC 208, he absolutely intends on giving him just that.
"I think (winning gets me closer to a title shot)," Brunson says. "Middleweight is the best division in the UFC, in MMA, in my opinion. Number one through 15 there's so many historical guys, so many game guys. Everyone is competing at the top level. Everyone is ready to fight and it's a coin-flip in a lot of the fights."