Anderson Silva is no Satchel Paige
And who is Satchel Paige?
Only the greatest pitcher who ever lived. A Negro League legend who didn't break into the majors until age 42 and who pitched professionally deep into his fifties. Like Silva is today, a virtuoso who often struggled to find opponents worthy of his once-in-a-lifetime level of skill.
It was a common problem for Paige who, like other big-time ballplayers of his era (or eras), kept the bills paid over the winter by barnstorming -- traveling town to town with a team of all-stars, defeating a team of local heroes, then passing the hat.
Pitting an all-time great pitcher against a decent semi-pro doesn't offer much intrigue. The outcome is pretty much guaranteed. Imagine, for example, Roy Halladay and friends showing up at Christie Pits to play the Intercounty Maple Leafs.
So to keep things interesting Paige had to stunt, calling in his outfielders and pitching with just an infield, or guaranteeing fans he would strike out the first nine batters.
Is that arrogant?
But but does that type of grandstanding add entertainment value to a confrontation so one-sided it would otherwise lack drama?
Absolutely. And that's why I had no problem with Silva's clowning in the early rounds -- the trash talk, the posturing, the capoeira sequence.
As long as he mixed his antics with action I could dig it, and Silva did drop Maia with a flying knee and tag him at will with type of laser-guided lefts and rights that put Forrest Griffin to sleep last August.
And as long as I had the feeling that Silva had a plan to meld flash with function and build up to a definitive ending, I would remain entertained.
But then Silva stopped fighting.
If the early round showboating was like Satchel pitching sans outfielders to ratched up drama before closing the show like the master he was, the second half of the fight was like a pitcher intentionally walking every other batter because....well, just because. Because he had a big lead and nothing to prove and no regard for the people who paid to see world-class competition.
Only Silva can explain why (and he didn't do a good job of it after the fight), but he spent the second half of the fight moving a lot, talking even more but throwing fewer and fewer punches and kicks. That he still managed to cruise to a unanimous decision speaks more to the yawning gap in ability between SIlva and Maia than to anything Silva did to win rounds.
If you didn't see the fight, you're lucky. I won't suggest you order a replay on pay-per-view or even try to hunt down a bootleg copy online. You'll sit there waiting for a knockout that never comes, and by the time Bruce Buffer announces the decision you'll have burnt 30 minutes you'll never get back. Better that I made that sacrifice for you.
Actually, I can't say that Silva shut down completely after round three. It's just that after a certain point, the only damaging blows he bothered to launch were verbal, mocking Maia's vaunted jiu-jitsu and his middle-class background.
Again, I don't mind verbal sparring as long as guys actually back up the trash talk with their fists (and feet and elbows, etc.). But nobody spent 50 bucks to watch these two debate, and if words are really that important, Silva can get a blog and say whatever he wants about Maia.
Either way, Silva coasted to a lopsided decision, keeping his UFC middleweight title but losing fans. Spectators that cheered Silva's early antics chanted Maia's name in the end, and I can't imagine the millions of viewers watching in homes and sports bars worldwide feeling any differently.
But Silva didn't seem to care. He didn't seem bothered by the boos, and post-fight didn't do much to explain or his startling change in tactics.
UFC president Dana White, meanwhile, is furious -- and he has a right to be. White knows better than anyone the mind-boggling ability Silva brings to the octagon, but as Sports Illustrated's Josh Gross points out Silva has embarrassed and enraged White twice before by mailing in wins over opponents he should have annihilated.
So after turning off both his fans and his boss, what's next for the Spider?
Tough to tell.
Even if he doesn't always bother to out-hustle or out-fight them, Silva has outclassed every opponent at both 205 and 185 pounds. And as disappointing as his decision win over Maia was, it did provide further evidence that Silva, more than anything, needs an opponent that will force him to use his dazzling array of skills.
One weight class south Montreal's Georges St. Pierre seeks the same, and as Silva entered the ring on Saturday the broadcast crew mentioned that a big win could set the two champions up for a showdown at 170 pounds. But after sleepwalking and trash-talking through the final two rounds against Maia, is White really inclined to reward Silva with a mega fight?
I doubt it, but maybe a mega fight is what he needs, not because he deserves it after dogging it against Maia, but because GSP is one of the few fighters in the world who can force Silva to do what we all tune in to see him do.
Fight hard from start to finish.