ABU DHABI // As evidence goes, the data which supports Anderson Silva's status as the world's best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist appears unequivocal. The Brazilian is undefeated in 10 UFC fights, the fight league's record winning streak. In half of those bouts, Silva has stopped his opponent in the first round; only once, against Thales Leites, his compatriot, has "The Spider" relied on the judges' decision.
Such is the UFC world middleweight champion's habit of either knocking out (seven) or forcing submissions (twice) from his rivals that, should Silva prevail against Demian Maia, his adversary at Saturday's UFC 112: Invincible at Yas Island, he will have set a record for the most title defences by a UFC champion (six). Silva's double-digit run of victories also included one-sided wins over light heavyweights James Irwin and Forrest Griffin - a former division champion.
Incredibly, Silva grounded both larger foes with first-round knockouts, illustrating the slender southpaw's natural ability to step up a weight category and dominate as ruthlessly as he does in his own. "It's not about how heavy his hands are, it's the speed of them which makes the difference," said Edelson Silva, a professional boxer who trains his namesake in the art of pugilism. "Anderson's striking ability is defined by his timing and accuracy as much as his power - that's what makes the difference."
Finding weaknesses in Silva's armoury - black belts in tae kwon do, judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu [BJJ] complement expertise in Muay Thai and boxing - is difficult. Maia, however, may take solace from Silva's difficulty in finishing Leites, a BJJ expert in the challenger's mould. Additionally, a distinct turnaround in Silva's career path may build further optimism. Brazilian opponents featured in five of Silva's first seven professional contests and since then he has faced just two in 18 bouts.
But if Maia is seeking an advantage from Silva's apparent reluctance to square-up against his countrymen, he would do well to forget that the champion has lost to only one of them - and that was his professional debut. In fact, the last time Silva was beaten - he averages three fights a year - was in 2006, a statistic which impressed BJ Penn, the UFC's lightweight champion. "It's amazing for someone to win for so long when everyone is gunning for him," he said.
Four losses in 29 career fights, however, offer evidence that Silva can be beaten. The champion, for his part, is not underestimating Maia. "It will be a great experience but Demian will be a big problem for me," said Silva yesterday. My training has been good and I have worked hard." Silva's pursuit of victory - one which, if achieved, will establish him as the UFC's most successful champion in any weight class - will be aided by a welcome addition to the fighter's 19-strong entourage: his father.
"I'm really happy that I can give my dad the opportunity to leave Brazil for a break," said Silva. "It's not the first time that he has seen me fight live, but it is the first time he has seen me fight in the UFC and it's great that he can experience it and be part of the team - he has been supportive throughout my career." Silva's career, the most spectacular in UFC - and perhaps even MMA - history, appears far from over.
But when, inevitably, his reign does end, his status as the world's greatest pound-for-pound fighter of MMA's global breakthrough era might be undisputed. @Email:email@example.com