Certainly there were shades of UFC 25. Even as the bantamweight title fight proved just as good as expected on Saturday night at UFC 132, the career of Tito Ortiz flickered but refused to die, while the fighting future of Wanderlei Silva dimmed considerably.
Coming in as a 4-1 underdog, Ortiz crafted the evening’s most surprising victory when he stuck Ryan Bader with a short right hand and then locked up an arm-in guillotine choke that elicited a tap out just one minute, 56 seconds into their light heavyweight fight. It netted Ortiz a hefty “Submission of the Night” bonus, but more importantly staved off the forced retirement (or at least the firing) that everyone knew was coming had he lost.
Ortiz celebrated in the cage as if he’d won the world’s undisputed championship, and it was hard to blame him. After nearly five years without a victory, it admittedly felt good to see the once dominant champion get back in the win column.
Things did not go quite as well for the evening’s other once-dominant champ. Silva’s fight with Chris Leben had been perhaps overplayed in the media as a potential candidate for fight of the year after both combatants promised to barrel out of their corners and swing for the fences for 15 minutes. The fighters obliged, but the bout didn’t go even nearly long enough to warrant consideration for any sort of end-of-the-year accolades.
Leben and Silva did the only thing they know how to do on Saturday night. They met in the center of the Octagon and started – as Quinton Jackson might say – throwing them bungalows. Silva struck first, cracking Leben on the nose with a right hook. Leben though, as he always does, fired back immediately with a cinderblock left hand that stunned the elder statesman. From there, he locked up a clinch and fired a string of left uppercuts that dropped Silva to the canvas and followed up with strikes on the ground until the referee moved in to call things off.
The whole thing took 27 seconds. In the wake of it, UFC President Dana White said the loss was probably “the end of the road” for Silva, who has suffered knockouts in four of his last six defeats. The “Axe Murderer” himself sent out a series of fairly heartbreaking posts to his Twitter account during the next few hours and the following day was his 35th birthday.
Throughout it all, and despite the fact Ortiz and Silva now fight in different weight classes, it was hard not to think of the night in April, 2000, when the two met to decide the UFC light heavyweight title in Tokyo, Japan. Ortiz took one of his typically dominant unanimous decision wins from Silva and at the time it was easy to overlook the significance of it all. In hindsight however, that bout was nothing short of a historic meeting between the two me who would go on to personify the next half decade of the sport’s history.
Ortiz won the UFC belt that night and went on to defend it fight times, arguably keeping the sport of mixed martial arts afloat during a difficult time in its life and crafting a record of dominance that makes him a shoe-in for the company’s hall of fame despite what seems like a continually rocky relationship with the promotion. Sometime after that, he clattered off the rails, becoming one of MMA’s more calamitous figures, losing four straight between 2006-10 and suffering through very public make-ups and break-ups in nearly everyone his life, both personal and professional.
Saturday night though, Ortiz beat Bader and proved he’s not quite done yet. From here, it probably makes sense to match him up with the winner of Rich Franklin’s upcoming bout at UFC 133 with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
On the night he lost to Ortiz, Wanderlei Silva was 23 years old. He didn’t lose again for four years, winning 16 straight fights (with a couple of no contests sprinkled in), claimed the Pride middleweight championship and one of the promotion’s touted grand prix tournaments. He became one of the most feared fighters in the sport and for a time was recognized as the best 205-pound fighters on the planet.
Now however, the UFC is probably right to pull the plug. Silva has nothing left to prove in a career that has already spanned 15 years and nearly 50 fights.
Even as Ortiz resurfaces – however briefly – it’s sad to watch Silva trundle through this difficult period of his career. Hopefully the UFC will be there to do some hand-holding, as it’s done for other all-time greats as they made their exits.