If, for the next few minutes, you can envision Anderson Silva as an artist, please do. I don't mean simply as it pertains to his skill in the cage. I'm talking a Pablo Picasso-type, in that odds are slim we’ll get to see another man inspired enough to do what he does.
This is how I regard the UFC middleweight champion, especially during the past few years.
Silva is far more than a record setter. More, still, than a magician executing Joe Rogan's proverbial “ballet of violence.” Listening to Silva during a conference call Tuesday promoting his UFC 162 title defense against Chris Weidman in Las Vegas only reaffirmed my view. And it seems to me that I see him this way because this is how he wishes to be seen.
"I've been doing this since I was 8 years old," Silva said. "There's always new challenges, there's always new things. My biggest concern is going out there and doing better for myself. I'm not concerned about what my opponents do. I want to better myself and I want to overcome anything that I have."
"Win or lose, I’ve already done everything there is to do," he added later. "Now it’s just a matter of doing what I love to do.”
Some people have interpreted this, then, as the moment in Silva's career when contentment meets complacency. I don't think so, and by the sound of things, neither does he. Same goes for his closest associates, who while admitting success has, at times, made Silva difficult to deal with, are quick to note the pureness with which he goes about his art remains unspoiled. The best artists create as part of a process of expression, and if this isn't an apt lens through which to view what Silva does, I don't know what would be.
Silva isn’t so far from 40. He obviously found his stride in life. He comes across as a man at ease -- with himself, with his circumstances, with his accomplishments and whatever else comes his way. His art is more than skill, of course. It includes will, which we saw when he outlasted Chael Sonnen in 2010, as well as the ability to top even the highest expectations.
Because of the tapestry of his mixed martial arts game, Silva has reached a status that means not only will he be asked about real world events, his answers can resonate. For most athletes, this is cliche time. Not Silva, who took several queries on the massive protests that have rocked Brazil. As straightforward as he could be, Silva weaved clear, concise and considerate answers. Asked if he would take a more activist role with his countrymen after fighting Weidman on July 6, as some Brazilian fighters already have, including UFC champ Jose Aldo, Silva said he would not.
He can’t be all things to all people -- not even he can pull that off -- and he knows enough to say so.
Artist will have to be good enough.
A trend afoot?
In January 2012, when ESPN took a look at fighter pay in the UFC, we didn’t speak with a fighter on the promotion’s roster at the time who was willing to be identified while discussing money and fighting in the Octagon.
I can tell you this: From a reporter’s perspective, it would have made a difference to the perception of the piece had a fighter gone on record, as Tim Kennedy did recently. Speaking to the GrappleTalk podcast, Kennedy claimed if he won and earned $70,000, he’d pocket around $20,000, before taxes. Kennedy broke down where his money went, to whom, and how much.
For anyone unfamiliar with the idea that fighters in the UFC are independent contractors who come out of pocket for training camps -- trainers, sparring partners, massage therapists (if you're lucky) all need to get paid -- the thought of $70,000 actually being $20,000 must seem crazy. And this is Kennedy's main point: You have to be nuts to do this, because the economics aren't favorable, even for quality fighters such as him.
In May, John Cholish and Jacob Volkmann separately voiced displeasure with the UFC pay scale after they were released from Zuffa. Should we take their words and label them disgruntled UFC washouts? Dana White did. Or should a trickling stream lead one to believe there's a larger pool of aggravation out there?
Based on what fighters told us under the condition of anonymity last year, and what they're beginning to air in public with names attached, it's safe to say the issue lingers.
It should be noted that not all the money talk is aimed negatively at the UFC. Chris Camozzi took his fellow UFC fighters to task for accepting lowball offers from sponsors.
"Fighters and managers want to talk about how unionizing the sport is what’s needed," Camozzi wrote on his blog in March. "Truth is they are just being lazy and want rules and third parties to set a baseline that they should be working to increase at every opportunity. What product has been commoditized faster than the UFC athlete sponsorship?
"Everyone [complains] about fighter pay, yet if it wasn’t for the pay from the promotion fighters would be broke. Yet the sponsors depend on us fans. The UFC built the popularity, built the platform and allows us to sell ourselves from the platform.
"We have a lot to be proud of, the UFC is a HUGE platform that exudes value. Just say no and watch the sponsors pay more. I did. I will take the first stand. I left money on the table, money I need. I did it for you, will you do it for me? Stop lowering the bar, these brands need to be in these events. They paid five to seven figures for PERMISSION to advertise on us, shouldn’t the ads be worth more? If permission is worth $15,000 per fighter than the actual ad is worth what?"
So is it a trend? I'm inclined to say it's too soon to know whether a trickle will become a flood. Nonetheless, it's clear more fighters are speaking openly about their money than they ever have before.
In a tizzy
This week has seen its share of not-so-friendly confrontations in the MMA world.
UFC president Dana White went after Bellator MMA and its ownership, media company Viacom. Jason “Mayhem” Miller excoriated White on Twitter, essentially blaming the colorful promoter for yet another failed effort to bring the sport to New York. And, there was a relatively harmless back-and-forth between Matt Mitrione and Brendan Schaub, also on Twitter, ahead of their fight on July 27.
White’s take regarding Bellator MMA, as told to MMAjunkie.com, was the most interesting because it offered another glimpse at how the UFC figurehead fires himself up.
As for the crux of his take on Bellator and Viacom: They’re late to the game and will never believe in the sport the way White and his team do. So (in his eyes, at least), they’re not worthy. Nothing new, but he’s consistent.
White is at his best in a whirlpool. He draws energy from skirmishes -- always has. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that the more things change, the more they stay the same.