Rising off the deck, Anderson Silva's invincibility felt imperiled.
With scorecards reflecting Silva's first dropped round since joining the UFC, the Brazilian stalker stood opposite Dan Henderson, as real a test as there is at 185 pounds, taking the advice of trainers with the attitude of someone meandering his way through a stick of gum.
Perhaps it's simple to maintain poise when truth has revealed no one can mess with you. Not right now, at least.
Henderson, some said, was the fighter to derail Silva's impressive run. It didn't happen because, as the UFC champ sees it, he was just better.
"He really wasn't able to do anything once he took me down, and that's what everybody was saying," Silva told Sherdog.com days after his title defense in Columbus, Ohio. "Standing up, I picked him apart. I feel every part of my game was effective in this fight."
Arguably the best striker in MMA, Silva's length makes fighting against him as fun as running wind sprints. With an affinity for walking through guys named Franklin and Henderson and everyone else, it's difficult to put into terms what more Silva could do at this point outside of remaining dominant against all comers.
"I don't think there's really anything else for him to prove," suggested Silva's manager, Ed Soares. "They say 'well, he's never fought a jiu-jitsu guy.' He goes out and submits Travis Lutter. They say 'he's never fought a wrestler.' Well Nate Marquardt was supposedly the superior wrestler. He out-wrestled Nate Marquardt. Now he wrestled a two-time Greco-Roman Olympic guy in Dan Henderson. I don't really think there's anything else out there for him to prove."
Soares' analysis supports what most believe: Silva belongs atop mixed martial arts' pound-for-pound lists. Accolades have filled media columns since his latest win, yet the 6-foot-2 Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt brushes them away like he has recent challengers.
Asked if the soft-spoken 32-year-old champion from Curitiba, Brazil, feels he is the best in the sport right now, Soares, who acts as Silva's full-time interpreter, interjected. The question had been asked enough and he didn't want to bother his fighter for an answer:
"He doesn't consider himself the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and he feels that the only time he'll be able to consider himself the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world is after he's retired."
Against Henderson it was thought the strong but slender Silva could be bullied into the fence, where he'd grapple one of the grittiest fighters in MMA instead of creating room to employ what UFC color commentator Joe Rogan aptly dubbed a "ballet of violence."
The American's constant threat of takedowns never really materialized. And even when Silva, now 21-4, was tossed to the canvas, his extended frame made it difficult for Henderson to muster a meaningful offense. The round ended and, as it turned out, so did Henderson's chances for victory.
Searching for answers as to why Silva has made great fighters look mediocre since joining the UFC middleweight ranks in 2006, some have looked to the Brazilian's ability to hit and hurt. Already one of the most accurate fighters in the business, Silva seems to have dialed in his power.
Chris Leben's thrashing was instigated by a handful of punches. Right hands from the southpaw ruined Marquardt's shot. Franklin twice waded through strikes to get his face rearranged by knees in the Thai clinch. And though he didn't seem to possess much in the way of leverage, Silva's punches scrambled Henderson to the point that he was forced to submit for the first time in his career to a choke.
Silva doesn't see the favorable results as simply a matter of finding more pop. In reality, he said, there hasn't been a noticeable improvement in that area of his game; perhaps it's one of the things he still feels he needs to work on.
The reason for his devastating success?
"I just feel that I'm watching my opponents and taking advantage of the opportunity much better than I did before," Silva says.
Too bad for a thinning lot of UFC challengers. Silva has already cleaned out the division to the point that he has made headlines recently by calling out Roy Jones Jr.
"All these boxers out there talking s--- how MMA fighters aren't technical, well he's willing to step up and fight them in their own game," says Soares, who notes that the idea to challenge the aging Jones was the UFC champ's. "So, if anything, he's not trying to say there's nothing to prove in MMA; he's trying to plant a flag for every one of the fighters out there in the world that fight MMA."
Could Silva even get Jones? Locked in a UFC deal, Soares said that would be up to Dana White, but if they had their way the fight would get made.
"I think he's a great boxer, one of the greatest boxers to ever box," Silva says of Jones. "I would love the opportunity to test my skills against him."
Yet Yushin Okami is a much more realistic candidate to be Silva's next opposition. The Japanese middleweight is 6-1 in the UFC and scored a disqualification win over the UFC titleholder in January 2006.
Silva's tone regarding the DQ versus Okami in Rumble on the Rock's 175-pound tournament suggests he is, at the least, vexed.
In their short time together, Silva flowed in the cage, shifting angles and closing distance at will. Okami, showing no desire to stand and trade, made no real effort to bring the bout to the floor, though he finally put it there and sat high in Silva's closed guard.
Scoring his only effective strikes of the fight, Okami looked comfortable on top, though as he'd learn moments later, there aren't any resting positions against Silva.
Swinging one of his king crab legs pasts Okami's arms, Silva planted the bottom of his right foot on the Japanese fighter's face. Okami fell back, obviously hurt. He would have taken more punishment had referee Troy Mandaloniz not held Silva back.
Okami was given every chance to recover, though even if he'd been lucid the disqualification still could have been warranted.
"The Spider" doesn't see it that way.
"I feel it was a cheap, cowardly way of winning," a pointed Silva says more than two years after the scrap. "People that were there saw that he was in the condition to come back and keep fighting, and he didn't."
Silva says he doesn't "really think much of anything of Okami," but the Brazilian was more poised when stuck under Henderson than he is when discussing the Japanese fighter.
"It wasn't really a fight," Silva describes the disqualification loss before adding that he doesn't want to talk about it anymore.
Judging by how Silva treats opponents he likes, such as Rich Franklin, Okami should be careful. He is a quality contender and could provide an intriguing matchup for the UFC middleweight champ, but he may also find out just what Silva fights like when he's angry.
Josh Gross is the editor of Sherdog.com.