With last week’s cuts to the UFC roster and company president Dana White saying there are at least 100 more to come, you’d think the UFC would be trimming its fat by getting rid of all the fighters with losing records. Yet, the UFC continues to keep and defend guys like Dan Hardy, Leonard Garcia and old lions like Wanderlei Silva. Why? Because these are the kind of guys that will usually go down swinging in the cage. And that kind of violent entertainment is just as important to the world’s biggest promotion as having the best guys face each other.

The 36-year-old Silva will be headlining the UFC on Fuel TV 8 card on March 3 in Japan against popular middleweight Brian Stann, and it is the sort of match that arguably falls into the category of entertainment. Not to discredit Silva’s long-standing legacy in MMA, but his current run in the UFC is 3-5 (his only three wins since 2006), with two of the five losses coming by way of brutal knockouts. He’s not headlining events due to his threat to a division’s elite, but based on his name and the promise of an entertaining fight.

If Silva is a guy that can maintain a UFC job with a spotty record based on his drawing power, then isn’t he the one that should choose to hang up his gloves, due to the fact that his entertaining approach will catch up to his health before his job security will?

Before we delve into that question, let’s look at Silva’s storied career to understand why he is still fighting in main events that people want to see, even if we’re in a time where his best days are behind him.

“The Axe Murderer” was in prime form from 1999 to 2006 with many iconic fights under the Pride banner. Silva reached legendary status by earning an unrivaled streak of 18 wins in Pride and holding the most victories—22—in Pride history while competing at middleweight and light heavyweight. He also earned the most knockouts in Pride history at 15, and in that time, won the 2003 Pride middleweight grand prix and earned the Pride middleweight belt, defending it more so than any other Pride champion, with four defenses. Those are seldom-matched feats in any MMA promotion, and ones that made Silva a modern-day Achilles to Japanese audiences.

A few of his greatest hits in Pride were a bloody war against Dan Henderson at Pride 12, brutally stopping Quinton “Rampage” Jackson twice, and perhaps most famously, delivering head kicks to a downed Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride 13. Fans new to MMA saw this bald, muscular figure rotating his clasped hands while he stared fear into his opponent; then, when they watched his highlights, the violence he perpetrated in the ring left a sick feeling of awe in the pit of onlookers’ stomachs. He was one of MMA’s original boogeymen, not to mention one of the few men in the world who can genuinely pull off a head tattoo (sorry, Jamie Foxx).

It was an impressive run, and one that ensured Silva’s immortality in MMA history. Yet, there is one fight that no fighter can ever win: the one against father time. That fight is one that they can only race against, but once it comes calling, those that refuse to listen do so at the expense of their health. Since 2006, the mystique of Silva has waned and he’s begun to look less brutal and more human—older.

The first sign of his past catching up with him was the outcome of facial surgery in 2009 to remove scar tissue. A different-looking Silva emerged after the procedure. It was obvious that 40-plus fights since 1996 had taken its toll on the man’s appearance alone, but what about the rest of his body and his ability to fight? Well, from what we’ve seen from Silva in the UFC lately, save for two violent wins over a pair of young dinosaurs like himself, his ability to win at a high level has declined considerably from what he was once viciously capable of doing.

After suffering three loses in a row, the old Silva returned in 2008 for his second UFC bout in his current run. At UFC 84, Silva dropped Keith Jardine with punches, following him to the ground and grasping his neck, securing a target and knocking Jardine out with raining right hands in 36 seconds. It was a win that longtime fans had yearned to see him pull off in the UFC. For better or worse, given Silva’s age and wear, it secured the longevity of his career in the promotion.

Going 2-4 since squashing Jardine, Silva hasn’t been able to secure more than one win at a time and has suffered two knockout defeats of his own. His career is beginning to look reminiscent of one of his old rivals, former world-beater Chuck Liddell. Liddell is a guy whose performances grabbed the attention of fans, but the former light heavyweight champion later found himself watching the sport grow up and pass him by. After suffering a string of three stoppages, many, including Dana White, called for the former champion to hang up his gloves.

Four of Silva’s six career KO/TKO losses have come since 2006, validating the decline of his ability to withstand punishment. Winning a decision against Michael Bisping in 2010 and a TKO over Cung Le in 2011 have done enough to keep Silva in the game, but truthfully, it feels like an extension of the inevitable. The few sparks of hope in an old career can’t outweigh the road of decline he is currently traversing. Do we really need to see him endure a few knockouts in a row like Liddell to understand that?

Some fans would debate a fighter’s right to go out on his shield, which is fine, if that is their choice. But then, guys like Chris Lytle, who decide to leave on a high note to avoid the inevitable red marks that come to a declining fighter’s record in high-level competition, are just as worthy of praise.

It’s known that a fighter’s chin can’t get any stronger with age. When a fighter’s lights get switched off, there is an invisible counter winding down that tells the body to stop putting itself into those situations for sake of a functioning brain further down the road. The problem for Silva is that if he can beat Stann impressively in March, the temptation to ignore his body becomes greater as he moves on to the next chance at glory, even if it means having to suffer a few more losses.

Stann is a fighter that hovers around the top-five in the UFC, but will probably never be able to crack the code to becoming a champion. He’s a fan favorite with a marketable backstory and personality, but simply is not a consistent threat to the best guys. We’ve seen this before with guys like Forrest Griffin, who was able to earn a championship win, but could never keep balanced footing against the top guys. Still, the UFC can use his marketability to headline events or just keep him as a main-event staple. Fighters like Griffin and Stann can be the perfect opponents for judging an up-and-coming contender, or they can always be used for a “classic” fight that is fun to watch, but holds no bearing on the division, such as this match between Silva and Stann.

But in the case of Silva, these kind of “classic” fights are the end of a once dominant career. For someone of his age, wear and accomplishment, what more is there to prove to himself or the fans? It seems like an empty gesture for fans to idolize a fighter who is still competing when they should have already hung up the gloves. Silva doesn’t need to compete any further to be the people’s champion. His accomplishments have already secured that. And it’s something that his recent run serves to undermine.

Having his upcoming fight in Japan be his last can be a poetic moment for Silva. It was the place where he showed the world the brutality and appeal of the sport of MMA in a time well before the current era. His career accomplishments already speak for themselves and will continue to serve as benchmarks for every new generation of fighter to aspire to achieve. Fighting for the UFC to win some here and maybe get savagely knocked out again just seems like an unnecessary grab for glory for a man that has already bested Father Time with his achievements.

Fans may continue to crave “The Axe Murderer,” and the UFC certainly has no problem granting him fights, but when will it be enough for the man himself? Win or lose at UFC on Fuel TV 8, Silva’s legacy, not only in Japan but in the entire MMA world, is secure. However, if he continues to trudge forward as relatively unsuccessful as he has, then will the same fans and promotions that want to see him continue be secure with the damaged man they might see in the future?

Photo: Wanderlei Silva (Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.