Silva by knockout in the third. Silva taunts Brazilian audience for four rounds, spinning heel kick knockout in the fifth. Okami manhandles Silva for four rounds only to get submitted in the fifth, then comes to the press conference looking like a dropped avocado and tests positive for drugs. Something interesting will probably happen, but the really interesting outcome—the longest win streak in UFC history is broken by Yushin Okami—probably won’t.
Historically, this is the kind of fight that messes with Silva’s head. It was an overmatch against Patrick Côté that inaugurated his Weird Period, when his evasiveness in the ring seemed proportional to his disdain. His baffling fights against Thales Leites and Demian Maia—who was perhaps not the phenomenon we thought him at the time—led Dana White to talk of firing the middleweight champion. If Silva hadn’t done that amazing thing to Forrest Griffin, or pulled out the triangle against Sonnen, or knocked out Belfort in the first—okay, he’s awesome again.
Strange to say it, but the man who hasn’t lost since 2006 is unreliable. Against a strong opponent like Belfort or even a brawler like Griffin, he fights brilliantly. Against an inferior competitor like Maia or Côté, he fights smart, which is to say boring. One can argue, as Silva himself has, that his fights against those men approached perfection—struck rarely, steadily doling out leg kicks, never not in control. But one can also argue, as White did, that the perfect fight is weirdly less than what Silva is capable of. And of course it’s boring, as the middleweight champion’s inordinately large hate club will attest.
It seems like the best striker in the world is maybe kind of arrogant. He might also be crazy, given his insistence that Maia insulted him, or simply petulant, given his Weird Period refusal to engage weak opponents. Any of these traits would be interesting and possibly even good marketing, if only we could settle on one of them. But the lack of a clear indication in any direction makes Silva not seem intriguing but withholding—at least to us.
It is difficult for the American fan to gauge Silva’s personality. The mask of translated moon-man language he sits behind on US television is enormously frustrating, as the persistent rumor that he actually speaks English attests. And like those long passages of Portuguese that translate to “I want to make a good fight,” many of Silva’s fights are clearly statements—but statements of what?
That question is why I am looking forward to UFC 134. It’s not the vs. Okami part I like, but the in Brazil. For the first time since 2002, we will watch Silva fight in front of a home crowd—one that knows him not just as a fighter but as a personality, and one to whom he presumably feels some sentimental obligation. The champion who says he only wants to fight smart and avoid injury but clearly cares about putting on a show will perform in front of an audience that expects to see one. And as a big, aggressive wrestler, Yushin Okami is maybe the perfect Rorschach test.
If Silva has a weakness, it is his takedown defense. Chael Sonnen proved that. But if Silva has two weaknesses, the other is his sense of himself as a fighter. None of us thinks Okami has a snowball’s chance in Brazil, and chances are Silva doesn’t either. He will therefore be forced to choose, on Saturday night, between trying for another spectacular knockout in front of a fervid crowd or playing it safe against one of the few fighters to remind him how abruptly he could lose.
I submit that what he chooses will tell us much about who Anderson Silva is. Okami is the kind of opponent who put him in his Weird Period to begin with. Rio is the kind of place where a fighter who obviously wants to be watched might show us something amazing. Saturday night’s title defense promises to answer a question that, sooner or later, becomes fundamental to every fighter’s career. Which is stronger: Anderson Silva’s love of winning or his fear of losing?