It is pretty much commonplace at this point to consider Anderson Silva as the greatest of all time. His record certainly allows the case to be made on his behalf. A 33-4 record with 16 consecutive victories since he first came to the UFC is hard to ignore. However, a closer look at the record makes it hard to proclaim him as the best to ever compete in MMA.
While nobody has ever been able to compile sixteen consecutive victories in the octagon, the argument can be made that few of those fights involved truly elite, top of the sport fighters. What’s more, the four losses he suffered before arriving in the UFC were to hardly elite level competition. Sure, there can be the occasional slip up against poor competition, but four times suggests to me a legitimate hole in the game.
Proponents of his ascension to the GOAT claim will point out that almost all of his wins in the UFC have been in title fights. Title fights in the largest promotion in the world would certainly suggest he is fighting nothing but the best the sport has to offer. And while it may be said his opponents have not been chumps, his resume is hardly going to be confused with those of Kevin Randleman or Randy Couture, fighters who took on, albeit less successfully at times, true legends in the sport.
Instead, a look at the defeated fighters Silva faced include, Irvin, Leben, Lutter, Okami, Griffin, and many similar type fighters. All of course were very talented fighters, some even having been champions, but it is doubtful many people are going to argue that they have a place in the hall of fame. In fact, only two, Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin, seem likely to have a case based strictly on their fight performances alone (Griffin may make it, but less for his fighting than for his part in the rise of MMA). And Henderson, while still good, is on the backend of his career, and Franklin has not adapted well to the evolution of the sport.
This is not to say that Anderson Silva is not incredible. Simply winning sixteen consecutive fights in the UFC, regardless of the pedigree of the opponents, is amazing. It’s also hard to blame him for reigning over a division that, at the time, has failed to give him top level competition. The division has been so poor at times, that Silva has had to move up to light heavyweight to find opponents. Of course, when he goes there, he has hardly fought the elite of the division, instead choosing to scrap with Irvin and Bonnar, fighters on the fringe of UFC level talent.
It is just difficult to label someone as the greatest at anything when they have not shown the ability to beat fellow all time greats. It may not be his fault, and if he chooses to challenge someone like Jon Jones, a new argument can be made, but beating mediocre competition does not make you the best. It makes you the best at winning fights you should win. As of right now, I think that is exactly what Anderson Silva is. As for the greatest of all time in MMA, he has yet to convince me.