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article imageOp-Ed: UFC: Wanderlei retiring is a bitter pill that should be swallowed

By Andrew Ardizzi     Jul 3, 2011 in Sports
As with many current mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, I began watching the sport around 2005 when the first Ultimate Fighter reality series aired, and I remember gradually becoming more and more immersed into the poetic violence the sport offered.
The more I've watched over the last six years, the more I've come to appreciate the sport and the work that goes into each fighter's training regiments. I've come to respect the sport's nuances, like how important positioning is when setting up a rib shattering judo throw, how much of a chess match Brazilian Jiu-jitsu can be when one fighter baits the other into a fight ending submission hold, or how a tactical stand-up battle can end alarmingly fast with but a single mistake.
And then there's Wanderlei Silva, lovingly known in MMA circles as, "The Axe Murderer."
When I began watching the sport in 2005, I remember perusing the DVD section in Wal-Mart after a long night of work at a nearby grocery store. Not even really looking for anything in particular, I stumbled onto this one DVD with a light blue case. The label read, "Pride Fighting Championships: Cold Fury." I remember picking up the case, flipping it around and reading the back label. Scrolling through the listed names, not one stood out, with the late Ryan Gracie as an exception. Even then, I only recognized the Gracie surname that he shared with UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie. Regardless, I brought the DVD to the cashier, bought it and took it home.
After I started watching "Cold Fury," it wasn't before long that I was exposed to a bald-headed man with a tattoo on the back of his skull. And so I began watching the first meeting between Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson as they went to war for 20 minutes before Silva was declared the winner by decision. Silva would go on to win another 13 consecutive fights before a controversial loss to Mark Hunt in 2004. During that stretch he vanquished everyone in his path, including Quinton Jackson twice and Kazushi Sakuraba three times. It was also during this stretch that he won both the Pride middleweight championship and the Pride Grand Prix middleweight tournament.
As with any prize fighter though, their time comes. It seems that in the end for every brutal knockout, be it a soccer kick to another's cranium or a brutal series of knees to another's face – leaving them face down and hanging on the ropes precariously, inches from slipping outside the ring – that when it comes to strikers or similarly boxers, the longevity of their careers is lessened. It's a stylistic issue. This is especially the case with Wanderlei Silva, who at 35 has fought 45 MMA fights, ending 23 of his 33 victories by knockout (KO) or technical knockout (TKO). Alternatively, of his 11 losses, six have come by vicious KO/TKO, four of which have come in the last five years. I remember watching him crumple after Mirko "Cro Cop" headkicked him. I remember Dan Henderson landing a spinning backfist followed by a combination to lay the sickly Silva out in their rematch in 2007. I remember watching UFC 92 when he fought Jackson for a third time, watching him go limp as Rampage landed a crisp hook to Silva's jaw, leaving him unconscious. Then last night, I watched a younger fighter end Silva's night as early as he ended so many fighters' nights in his path of violence from Brazilian promotions to Pride FC in Japan, all the way up to his UFC victories over Michael Bisping and an over-matched Keith Jardine. Now – especially after his vicious KO loss to Chris Leben at UFC 132 on July 2– we find ourselves at another juncture in the sporting world where we're discussing the retirement of a professional athlete.
There's no arguing Silva's place in the sport, as he has nothing to prove to anyone beyond himself. Whether he should retire from MMA is a question only he can answer. Myself, his fans, Dana White or whomever can only offer their insights. The facts are what they are though, yet I'd argue that in his time in the UFC he has fought competitively against a healthy list of great fighters, all of which were closely contested save for his fights against Jackson and Leben. Perhaps we should also account his lengthy layoff to recuperate from injuries. Is he the same fighter he was? No. Is he as loved as any other fighter in MMA history? For that answer I think we only have to look as far as the opening moments of last night's fight as the lights dimmed and 'Sandstorm' began. I think, as much as fans love Wanderlei Silva, we have to question whether we can stomach watching him go out as he did at UFC 132. I personally can't, and I glumly agree with Dana White that maybe it's time.
Maybe that's where sports is a tricky business where being a fan is concerned. We attach ourselves to athletes like a Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Chuck Liddell or a Roy Jones Jr. and continue to watch them while remembering the "glory days" of their prime without considering that time has passed them by. In this case, as much as I appreciate Wanderlei and what he's accomplished, I still want him to be able function, play with his kids and hold his wife at the end of the day. Maybe it is time, it's just a hard pill to swallow.
Thank you Wanderlei, and Happy Birthday, sir.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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