Perhaps at no time in the history of the UFC have their been so many dominant champions at one time. Along with Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Junior dos Santos, we have the most impressive of all, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. Both can have cases made that they are the greatest fighter of all time. Yet, with all the dominance they display, something is still missing. And MMA, which was exploding in popularity during the last decade has started to sputter over the last few years.
How could that possibly be? Surely with two of the greatest fighters ever competing at their peaks in the same era, the sport should be exploding even more than ever. So what is the problem? That’s easy. While both are immensely gifted fighters, neither are willing to take a chance. Neither dares to be great. They just continue to carefully craft a legacy that they believe will cement their places as the greatest ever.
The great fighters of previous eras had resumes littered with the greatest fighters of their time. Look at previous champions such as Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Kevin Randleman. They all fought incredible opponents consistently throughout their times at the top. And while they may not have always won, they were willing to risk it all and fight the best to show what they were made of.
Fast forward to Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre and you will see much prettier MMA records with victories over fighters nobody is going to nominate for the hall of fame. Both are so concerned about their legacies that they refuse to embrace any challenge in which they do not have a distinct advantage.
Anderson Silva has had a run unlike any ever seen in the octagon. Sixteen consecutive wins to start his run in the promotion is awe inspiring. At any time one single punch can end a fight, so no matter the opposition, sixteen in a row is nothing to sneeze at. However, it hasn’t exactly been a murderers row he has faced. Patrick Cote, Chris Leben, Travis Lutter, Thales Leites and Demien Maia are all solid fighters. None of them are championship level. His most impressive victories would be over Rich Franklin twice, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. Again, all of them are really good, but with the exception of Henderson, none are all time greats. And Henderson, although still a top notch fighter, is on the backside of his career.
In boxing, when there are not other greats to fight in your own weight class, many of the all time greats moved around to fight the best. Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and countless other legends repeatedly fought at different weights looking for the best competition. Anderson Silva has moved up in weight twice to fight different competition. But rather than going to fight the best, he challenged marginal fighters James Irvin and Stephan Bonnar. Not exactly names that are going to add to a legacy. When asked about fighting the light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Silva has repeatedly said he will not take that fight.
Much like his ultra conservative style in the cage, Georges St. Pierre also carefully picks and chooses fights that offer the best chance of success. At 18-2 in the UFC, his record is almost as impressive as Silva’s. Also like Silva, his resume includes a long list of fighters who will not be remembered 20 years from now. Thiago Alves, Matt Serra, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg and Dan Hardy are a few of the names he holds victories over. Again, all good fighters, but are they the stuff legends are made of?
One advantage St. Pierre has is that he has faced many more opponents with big personalities than Silva has. So wins over names like Josh Koscheck, BJ Penn, Miller and Matt Hughes seem more impressive than maybe they otherwise should be. And while Penn and Matt Hughes, for example, are indeed all time greats, St. Pierre held distinct advantages over both when he fought them. Hughes was in decline, a fighter of an earlier era who was becoming obsolete. Penn was hampered by the massive size difference between the two. Perhaps St. Pierre learned from Penn, because he has shown a total unwillingness to move up in weight and fight anyone where he won’t have a size advantage over.
After St. Pierre came back recently with a win over Carlos Condit, Dana White and UFC fans started clamoring for a superfight between the two. Of course Silva is more than willing to fight St. Pierre, as he would enjoy an enormous size advantage over him. A win over Georges St. Pierre would give his resume some much needed star power. So would a win over Jon Jones, but Silva clearly wants no part of that risky opposition. Instead he prefers the option where he would have clear physical advantages.
St. Pierre has expressed no interest in this fight saying he intends to stay within his division. Unfortunately, he cleared the division out years ago and credible challengers are in short supply. Maybe he can call out Benson Henderson. It’s clear he won’t move up to face anyone, so maybe asking smaller guys to move up is the way to go.
When their careers are over, it is likely many people will consider Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre the greatest fighters ever. But the greatest in every sport always had others to lift them up. Sugar Ray Leonard had Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. Magic Johnson had Larry Bird. These athletes all proved themselves against each other, thriving in the competition. They dared to be great. Silva has Yushin Okami. Either may indeed be the best MMA fighter ever, but I believe history will diminish their legacies a bit as they never showed a true desire to put it all on the line in an effort to prove they were the best. Instead, they carefully looked for ways to avoid the possibility of losing.