A number of years ago, 2011 to be exact, I remember having a conversation with someone else in the fight game in which I compared Anderson Silva to Floyd Mayweather.
We were talking about what it was like to cover, as a journalist, a Silva fight and a Mayweather fight. And the point I made at the time was that it felt pretty similar.
Every time one of them fought, I would ask myself on the way to the arena, "What if tonight is the night he loses?" -- not even because I thought it was particularly likely, but just, "What if?" You know? Like, the event of one them losing would literally be a piece of history. I felt that way about Silva and Mayweather, in their primes, more than any other combat athlete I've covered.
And I bring this up not to compare the two now. In fact, as far as this column is concerned, I'll drop Mayweather altogether. I bring it up to remind everyone, myself included, what Silva used to represent in this sport -- because we've reached a point in his career when it is actually possible to forget. Or, for that matter, not even know.
If you haven't been a fan of MMA for at least six years, you never even knew Silva as a champion. Since 2013, he has exactly one win. He has failed multiple drug tests and served multiple suspensions. He is 44 years old. His next fight, at UFC 237 this weekend in Rio de Janeiro, is against a dangerous but relatively unknown opponent, Jared Cannonier.
Look, there's a serious question to be answered in the coming months or years regarding Silva, and that is: How does this man go out?
The answer is not really up to us as spectators, obviously, but I would argue it's worth discussing. I'd even characterize it as a potential problem the UFC can't ignore. Because even though Silva's legacy has changed a little in recent years, he is still Anderson Silva. His seven-year title reign from 2006 to 2013 is a precious piece of MMA history.
The way he goes out matters.
And it feels like we're going into the finale of one of the greatest careers in MMA history ... without a plan. What is the story behind Silva vs. Cannonier? What are we hoping to learn here? What does it mean for either of them? Keep in mind, Silva's last fight, a three-round scene from The Matrix against Israel Adesanya, made sense. That was Silva passing the torch to a kid who fights like him and grew up idolizing him. It was a touching moment -- and a meaningful defeat -- for Silva.
Moving forward, there is no torch left for him to pass. And if Silva takes another loss on Saturday, it's going to be a lot harder to extract anything positive from it.
What is the right ending for Silva? It's not an easy question, truly. This sport often struggles with questions about the end, so usually, we just don't answer them. We just let it play out until it almost feels normal that this all-time great is fighting some random opponent on a UFC undercard. Look no further than UFC 237, where BJ Penn will face Clay Guida in a bout no one asked for and can't really make sense of.
The UFC doesn't really do this historically, but it should take an active role in mapping out the end of Silva's career now. However many fights he has left -- and I'd argue in favor of the lowest amount -- give them purpose. Find the other veterans who make sense to pair him with. Acknowledge we're at the end.
Because I remember what Silva is to the sport of MMA, and I want it reflected in however he goes out.