Mixed martial arts is a sport built upon meteoric rises and cataclysmic falls. No fighter has left the sport with their legacy untarnished. In MMA, failure is assured. Father Time makes no exceptions and every great declines with time, but in combat sports their downfall is usually more brutal. While Pele, George Best and Maradona declined, their legacies were never doubted. But due to the vicious nature of defeats in MMA, you are usually remembered for your last few performances. But this is wrong on a fundamental level.
On Saturday night at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, New York, two special athletes with illustrious fighting careers competed. In the co-main event, Anderson Silva faced Derek Brunson. And while he earned a victory, he looked far from his former self. In the main event, Holly Holm lost her third consecutive fight—albeit under controversial circumstances. These two high-profile disappointing performances lead to the establishment of a worrying narrative: “Were they ever that good?” popped into my timeline as fans discoursed about Silva and Holm.
One argument that continues to grind my gears is the dumbfounded notion that Anderson Silva’s title reign was unimpressive. Since Chris Weidman shattered Silva’s mystique, revisionist fight fans have cast their eyes on the Brazilian’s resume. And in the process, began questioning his achievements. Many have questioned the merit of defeating Thales Leites, Travis Luther and James Irvin, but these criticisms of Silva’s resume are extremely shortsighted.
At his best, Silva was unbelievable. A beat ahead of his adversaries; a maestro in a room filled with novices. While Silva has tasted defeat in recent years, it does not devalue his prior achievements. Losing to Weidman and Cormier does not mean that Silva’s spectacular wins over Belfort, Henderson and Sonnen were worthless. His later defeats just mean he has passed his prime, which is to be expected.
The defeats of an aging fighter should not devalue his prior achievements. Nobody judges Muhammad Ali by his sub-par final fights. In the moment it is easy to jump to conclusions about a fighter’s career, but time and hindsight will likely paint Silva as the all-time greatest. That is, if revisionists do not tarnish his public perceptions too badly.
Like Silva, Holly Holm entered UFC 208 with a lot of pressure on her shoulders. In the main event, Holm, the former Bantamweight Champion of the world, faced Germaine de Randamie for the inaugural UFC Women’s Featherweight Title. Holm stood with the chance to become the only woman in UFC history to be a champion at two different weight classes, but she came up short by the tightest of margins. She looked great at times, but was caught with some illegal strikes after the bell and never fully recovered. Germaine de Randamie’s nod from the judges handed Holm her third consecutive defeat, leaving her legacy in a precarious position.
When Holm dethroned Ronda Rousey for the Bantamweight Title, she became an overnight legend. But after tasting three consecutive defeats, people have begun to discredit her achievements. This has also been enhanced by the fact that Rousey recently got dominated in her return to the cage. But Holm’s last three fights have all been close. And her defeat of Rousey is still as impressive today as it was when it happened. Losing doesn’t erase Holm’s previous achievements and quite honestly, I believe she did more than enough to earn the victory against de Randamie.
Questioning Holm’s legacy is not only wrong, it’s disrespectful to Rousey and all the other talented fighters that Holm defeated.
MMA is the toughest sport in the world and making a legacy is almost impossible. As fans, we must realize that success is fleeting. We must realize that all the greats will lose. But, that does not mean they weren’t great to begin with. Instead of revising combat history to fit a modern narrative, we need to evaluate each fighter on their body of work.
In the end, UFC 208 did nothing to take away from Silva and Holm.